The railways on Saturday said 50 per cent of its 5,213 isolation coaches meant for coronavirus patients will now be used to run Shramik Special trains.
News agency PTI had on Friday reported that the railway board in an order dated May 21 allowed 60 per cent of these modified coaches to operate the special trains to ferry migrants.
The officials said these non-AC coaches will not be reconverted into normal coaches, but will be used as “they are” for these services.
“We have so far converted 5,000 such coaches and we have 80,000 beds available. These coaches can be deployed wherever the states desire, but since they were not in use as of now, we have taken a decision to use 50 per cent of them as Shramik Special coaches,” Railway Board Chairman VK Yadav said on Saturday.
“However, the others are available for use as COVID-19 care centers. If required, even those used in the trains can be diverted for COVID-19 care whenever required,” he said.
In the order issued on May 21, the railway board said, “60 per cent of isolation coaches meant for intervention of COVID-19 cases, railways may utilise them for running of Shramik Special trains. It is permitted by board”.
While making the modified isolation wards, the middle berths had been removed and the lower portion of the compartment plugged by plywood.
There is also a provision of partition provided from the aisle side for isolation of the compartment.
Due to non-availability of the middle berth, when in use, the trains with these coaches will have lower number of passengers.
Officials said all the equipment on board the coaches like oxygen tanks, ventilators and other medical items will be removed from them.
One significant change for travelers would be the availability of a proper bathroom and not just a toilet on board. The four toilets in each coach have been converted into two bathrooms by plugging the toilet pan and with proper flooring. Each bathroom will have a hand shower, bucket and mug.
“This is a win-win situation for railways. We are not reconverting the coaches into regular ones, but using them as they are by removing only the medical equipment on board. There is no additional cost that we are incurring. We will also remove the curtains. These coaches will come in multipurpose use since they are currently not being utilised.
“If and when they are needed as isolation units, they will be shifted for use there,” a railway spokesperson said.
The Centre has, however, earmarked 215 railway stations for the deployment of railways” isolation coaches to be used as “COVID-19 Care Centers” for suspected or confirmed patients categorised as mild or very mild cases.
As of now, none of these coaches are in use.
Officials said modifying each coach into isolation wards has cost the national transporter around Rs 2 lakh, while reconverting them into regular non-AC coaches would cost it Rs 1 lakh for each coach.
So far, the railways has operated 2,600 Shramik Special trains since May 1 to ferry 36 lakh migrant workers home.