The second wave of Covid-19 has hit India very hard. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is seen in a large percentage of affected persons. SARS patients need oxygen supply for survival before their immune system becomes resistant to the disease. As a record number of SARS patients are admitted to hospitals, hospitals are facing a shortage of oxygen.
As the situation turned bad to worse, several states of India are reporting a shortage of oxygen supply. City hospitals in the states of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh have critically low oxygen levels and are in dire need of medical oxygen. Supply from neighbouring states is also being blocked due to rising Covid-19 cases in them. Thus the only way out remains that medical oxygen is brought from oxygen manufacturing industries located in heavily industrialized areas far away from the Covid-19 hotspots.
In such a dire situation, the Centre has decided to run oxygen express which are goods trains carrying oxygen from one place to another. Flat wagons used in goods trains are used as roll-on-roll-off, where oxygen tanker trucks are rapidly loaded and discharged. Due to electrified sections, there is a height limitation for which only short height tankers, T-1618 of height 3.32 metres, are used for this purpose. The capacity of each tanker is 15,000 litres of liquid medical oxygen.
Oxygen in cryogenic state is a hazardous chemical for transport, and hence railways have to check the pressure in each tankers regularly. There are limitations in the speed of the train, acceleration and braking, and also limitation of routes as these trains cannot operate in ghat sections. Yet, railways have taken it as a challenge, mapped the entire route, trained the officials in new requirements, and made new ramps overnight.
The first Oxygen Express goods train started from Kalamboli near Mumbai to fetch liquid medical oxygen (LMO) from Vizag in Andhra Pradesh. A longer route via Vasai was planned to avoid the ghat sections that fall in Central Railways routes. The first oxygen express took 50 hours to do the job. The journey started with 7 tankers from Vizag, while 3 were unloaded at Nagpur, the rest reached Nashik Road railway station on Saturday morning, 24th April.
The second Corona express brought oxygen from Bokaro in Jharkhand to Lucknow. The train made a halt at Varanasi, where one truck was offloaded, and the remaining two trucks were dispatched through a green corridor between Varanasi and Lucknow. The goods train has reached Lucknow on 24th April, and the trucks were immediately sent to hospitals to stem the severe oxygen crisis in the city.
More states have demanded oxygen transportation via oxygen trains. Delhi, which has seen one of the worst pandemic situations ever, is about to get more than 70 tonnes of oxygen from Raigarh in Chhattisgarh. The first oxygen train to Delhi has reported having arrived at Delhi as of 27th April. Subsequently, more trains are planned to Delhi from Angul, Rourkela in Odisha and Durgapur in West Bengal. A second oxygen express has also reached Maharashtra from Hapa, Gujarat. Andhra Pradesh has also asked for a train from Angul to Vijaywada.
Corona Express has come to rescue India, where Covid-19 patients were dying for want of oxygen. More oxygen trains in the coming days hope to relieve the oxygen crisis in the country by a big margin. In such difficult times, it is required for all to co-operate, follow Covid-19 protocols, stay at home unless urgent, and thus save the lives of thousands of fellow Indians all across the country.
Written by – Himadri Paul