Mumbai: Indian Railways’ Covid Care Coaches lay unused amid bed shortage

At a time when the second wave of COVID-19 has led to shortage of beds across the city, the Covid Care Coaches built by the Indian Railways are lying unused. There are over 450 coaches with oxygen that can cater to 11,000-plus patients that lie unused. The Maharashtra government hasn’t directed the Railways on its need, while the Railways are waiting for directions to be given.

In view of the pandemic, the Indian Railways had converted 892 coaches on Central and Western Railways into Covid Care Centers. Almost a year later, the railway authorities have simply parked these coaches in railway sidings or also reconverted into regular Sleeper coaches after Railway Board directed them to, last year.

“We converted 90 percent of our coaches into regular Sleeper ones. This was done as directed by the Railway Board and after consultation with the state government,” said a CR official.

The CR had set up 482 Covid Care Coaches at a cost of Rs 3.8 crore and now only 48 CCC remains with them after others were refurbished into regular coaches. The CR officials said that there is nominal cost involved in redoing it into normal coaches as they are simply removing the paraphernalia and replacing them with seats.

However the WR authorities claim that they didn’t convert their 410 CCC into regular ones. “All our Covid Care Coaches are intact. We have apprised the state government about its availability,” said Alok Kansal, General Manager, Western Railway.

Of the 410 CCC, at least 128 of them are for Mumbai. These have been parked at different sidings and can be easily put into action after necessary cleaning, washing and installation of oxygen cylinders inside it. The WR authorities transformed 410 coaches at a cost of Rs 2 crore as a backup option for taking in COVID-19 patients.

Owing to augmentation of health infrastructure to fight Covid-19, the need for these isolation coaches didn’t happen. In March 2020, the Railway Board directed the zonal railways to convert Sleeper coaches into isolation units across the country.

Currently the situation across the state especially Mumbai is precarious owing to the second wave of Covid-19. The two railways together created isolation units meant for treating Covid-19 patients in these coaches for which they spent close to Rs 6 crore on these 892 coaches.

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