Facing a severe shortage of medical oxygen, the Delhi government has requested the Railways to operate ‘Oxygen Express’ trains to save COVID-19 patients gasping for breath in the city’s hospitals, Railway Board Chairman Suneet Sharma said on Friday.
The request came after a meeting convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chief Ministers of states having high COVID-19 caseloads, including Delhi.
In the meeting, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal appealed to the Centre to provide medical oxygen to the national capital.
The Delhi government is the latest to have lined up for ‘Oxygen Express’ services, after Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, Sharma said.
Each tanker of ‘Oxygen Express’ trains can carry around 16 tonnes of medical oxygen, he said, adding these trains travel at a speed of around 65 kmph.
“We have received a request from Delhi just now, and we are still planning its movement. We will likely get the oxygen from Rourkela,” the Railway Board chairman said.
“Andhra Pradesh has asked for oxygen to be moved from Angul in Odisha. We have asked the Delhi government to keep their trucks ready, and our wagons, ramps are ready in the NCR area,” he added.
Mr Sharma said the ‘Oxygen Express’ train headed for Uttar Pradesh will reach Lucknow on Saturday, and the one for Maharashtra will reach Nagpur on Friday night and then proceed towards Nashik, from where oxygen will be dispersed to different cities.
Deaths due to the lack of oxygen have been reported from across the country, and it was on the suggestion of the Maharashtra and the Madhya Pradesh governments that the Railways planned a policy to transport liquid medical oxygen in cryogenic tankers to states on request.
The first such train was pushed into service on April 19, when seven trucks left Mumbai for Vizag to load oxygen. These trucks were loaded on flat wagons and carried to the loading location.
Asked why the ‘Oxygen Express’ trains were taking so long to reach their destinations, Sharma said it was because of the sensitive material they are carrying.
For the ‘Oxygen Express’, the Railways has issued transportation rates and weight requirements. The rules are valid till October 15.
Also, the Railways will not levy any surcharges and will provide five hours’ free cargo-handling time. Goods and Services Tax will be levied. Two people, including the driver, can get on the trucks (with second-class tickets) carrying the oxygen.
Transportation of oxygen through trains is faster over long distances. Trains can run 24 hours a day but a truck needs to take halts etc, an official said.
To facilitate loading and unloading of tankers, a ramp is required which the Railways has constructed in record time, Mr Sharma said.
Also, due to restrictions of height of Road Over Bridges (ROBs) and Over Head Equipment (OHE) at certain locations, out of the various specifications of road tankers, the model of road tanker T 1618 with a height of 3,320 mm was found feasible to be placed on flat wagons (DBKM) with a height of 1,290 mm.
Mr Sharma said the demand from Delhi will be met soon as the logistics are currently being worked out.
India added a record over 3.32 lakh new coronavirus cases in a single day, taking the country’s tally to 1,62,63,695, while the count of active cases crossed the 24-lakh mark, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Friday.
The number of deaths increased to 1,86,920 with a record 2,263 new fatalities. The country recorded a single-day rise of 3,32,730 new cases, the data updated at 8 am showed.
Registering a steady increase, the number of active cases increased to 24,28,616, comprising 14.93 per cent of the total infections, while the national COVID-19 recovery rate has further dropped to 83.92 per cent.
Mr Sharma said that around 93,000 railway beneficiaries have been affected by COVID-19, and 72 railway hospitals and 5,000 beds are dedicated to their care.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)