Owing to an increasing demand for oxygen, ICU/ventilator beds amidst a massive surge in COVID-19 cases in Mumbai and Maharashtra, the Ministry of Railways stepped up to provide faster transportation of the life-saving gas in the city via rail.
Ramps were built overnight in two identified locations, Kalamboli in Raigad and Boisar in Palghar district, after the Maharashtra government requested that O2, a key element in the treatment of certain medical conditions in the COVID infection be brought at the earliest. Senior officials from the Railways say they are fully ready to transport Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) and Oxygen Cylinders. This move will enable transportation of road tankers via train to bring LMO from suppliers across India.
"Before we begin running the trains, the feasibility in both these places needed to be checked. Sending empty tanks is a common move and is easy to transport via train, that makes it possible to send Liquid Medical Oxygen to whichever location in not just Maharashtra, but across India," said Sumit Thakur, Chief Public Relations Officer (CPRO), Western Railways.
Whether building a ramp, fitting the specific size of tankers to fit on rail wagons, was decided on the basis of trail results and the infrastructure available. Multiple workers are engaged in building test ramps to load tankers on trains, at Boisar and Kalamboli stations. The flat 32-wagon (open rake/ coach) will travel to Odisha (Rourkela), Jharkhand (Bokaro, Jamshedpur) and Andhra Pradesh (Vishakapatnam), with the first train leaving on 19 April.
"Keeping in mind the current medical crisis and emergency and the demand and request from the Maharashtra government, we supported accordingly. The technical trials were successful and now we can run them on key corridors," added Thakur. In order to ensure that parameters of transportation are tested, trials were conducted at various locations. A single 32-car train can bear a load of 32 tankers and a carrying capacity of about 15-16 tonnes of liquid oxygen.
It was Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra who first approached the Ministry of Railways to explore whether LMO tankers could be moved by Railways. Joint measurements were taken by representatives of Industry and Railways despite restrictions of height of Road Over Bridges (ROBs) and Over Head Equipment (OHE).
Union Minister of Railways, Piyush Goyal, through a series of tweets said “Met with Health officials, state government representatives, and private sector stakeholders to identify innovative ways to boost the supply of oxygen. We are exploring all options to ensure sufficient supply of oxygen and intend to leave no stone unturned. Roll-on-roll-off oxygen trucks getting loaded for Oxygen Express. Under PM Narendra Modi ji's leadership, Government of India is committed to doing everything possible to help COVID-19 patients. Railways is leaving no stone unturned in the battle against COVID-19. We will be running Oxygen express trains using green corridors to get Oxygen in bulk and rapidly to patients.”
Goyal also announced that Maharashtra would be distributed the highest share, 1,500 out of the 6,177 metric tonnes of oxygen for states that are deficient on the gas. As more ramps are expected to come up in a few days, the Oxygen Express is on track to achieve its objective. Tentatively a movement plan has been made for dispatching 10 empty tankers on 19 April.
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