After India went into lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 25, Indian Railways decided to suspend all passenger trains across the country until April 14, marking the railway’s first suspension in 167 years.
Indian Railways, Asia’s oldest railway network, operates over 20,000 passenger trains a day from 7,349 stations across India. While freight trains continue to operate, thousands of passenger trains are currently unused.
To put many of the idle trains to good use, Indian Railways is converting nearly 20,000 old train carriages into isolation wards for coronavirus patients. The network already operates 125 across the nation.
According to CNN, India has reported 4,288 cases of coronavirus and 117 deaths as of April 1. While the country’s hospitals are not currently overcrowded, the repurposed trains will be ready to use if the number of cases continues to rise.
“Now, the railways will offer clean, sanitized and hygienic surroundings for the patients to comfortably recover,” Piyush Goyal, the Railways Minister via Twitter.
Each carriage available will be sanitized and converted into a hospital ward able to accommodate up to 16 patients, complete with a nurses’ station, a doctor’s cabin and enough space for medical supplies and equipment. Each train will be sent to locations with rising cases of coronavirus.
Local health authorities will assign government doctors, paramedics, nurses and volunteers to the trains.
Additionally, railway factories are assessing the possibility of manufacturing hospital beds, stretchers, medical trolleys, masks, sanitizers, aprons and medical apparatus such as ventilators for use in railway hospitals and other government hospitals.
“The first 5,000 isolation wards will be ready within a fortnight, and if necessary, more carriages can be converted within 48 hours”, said Rajesh Dutt Bajpai, executive director of information and publicity at the Railway Board.
The trains will not act as a substitute for full-service hospitals and are to be used for patients who have tested positive for coronavirus but are not critically ill.