Workers clean a train at the railway yard in New Delhi on Sunday. (Express Photo)
NO BLANKETS, increasing the temperature in air-conditioned compartments, removing curtains and ticket-checking staff wearing masks. These are some of the measures Indian Railways, transporting 2.3 crore passengers every day, has taken in its fight against Covid-19.
“With a proper surveillance mechanism and response system in place, epidemics can be detected at the beginning stage of their outbreak and controlled,” says Indian Railways’ own Disaster Management Plan.
However, with no Standard Operating Procedure to follow in an unforeseen situation like the coronavirus outbreak, Indian Railways, just like all other government agencies, is thinking on its feet to keep the disease at bay. Recently, a woman, who later tested positive for Covid-19, flew to Delhi from Bengaluru and then took a train to Agra.
It has decided that since its blankets are washed only once in two months — a fact it has told Parliament several times — it would be best to do away with them for now.
Instructions have been issued to all zonal railway units that the linen set, which carries a hand towel, and a pair of identical bedsheets, should be washed thoroughly (they are already washed and ironed before distribution) before giving them to passengers. And each set carries a blanket.
Some 18 lakh such sets are in circulation every day. Typically, around 3 times the train’s total passenger capacity worth of linen set is loaded on each long-distance train before every journey. It is enough for a to and fro journey and for those who embark midway. The national transporter does not want to take chances with that kind of load at the moment.
The Railways is advising that passengers bring their own blankets if they need it in view of the special measures. “The curtains are an added feature in AC coaches for privacy. But since they are not washed every day, we thought it best to remove them for now,”said a senior government official. There are over 12,000 AC coaches which have curtains. They are being removed on a war footing.
The 68 Divisions led by Divisional Railway Managers have been asked to coordinate with respective state health departments to follow localised instructions surrounding mass contacts. There are some divisions which have started screening passengers with laser-based thermometers to check body temperature before letting them enter their premises. Instructions have been issued to them to sanitise each coach and all contact areas. “All contact places, including escalators, railings, door handles, seats, and bathrooms are being sanitised,” Railway Minister Piyush Goyal has tweeted.
Instructions have also been given that trains should never run out of liquid soap and water.
With blankets gone and curtains removed, there is the issue of passengers feeling cold. As a workaround, efforts are on to slightly increase the AC temperature. “But then we cannot make AC coaches warm also. So there’s a fine balance required,” said an officer.