A team driven by a commitment to address emergency

Frontline rail staff take pride in running life saving Oxygen Express trains, running non-stop to meet the heavy demand in COVID second wave

Forty-eight-year-old R.N. Rao is an old railway war horse, starting as an assistant loco-pilot, becoming loco-pilot, moving onto Express Trains and now Loco-Inspector supervising operations. But, even he did not imagine marshalling trains running with empty trucks and later containers, and returning them filled with Oxygen, practically non-stop, to meet up with the heavy demand in view of the second COVID pandemic wave.

“We are aware of the dire necessity of Oxygen during these tough times. With advance planning, coordinated team work with other departments like operations, signalling and others, plus monitoring at the highest levels, we are able to provide succour to the needy patients,” he says. Mr. Rao is among the hundreds of unknown railway soldiers carefully chosen by the South Central Railway (SCR) to run Oxygen Expresses sourced by the Telangana government to replenish the life giving gas in hospitals. While the first five tanker express began journey on April 28 from Secunderabad Cantonment military sliding station and returned loaded from Angul (Odisha) on May 1. So far, 15 such trains have delivered Oxygen to Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

A sense of urgency

“Nine trains brought 775 Metric Tonnes to Telangana and six 336 MTs to A.P. from Odisha, West Bengal, Gujarat and Jharkhand so far. We run them with highest sense of urgency putting them even in front of other express trains to ensure Oxygen reaches in fastest possible time,” says General Manager Gajanan Mallya.

Chips in Chief Public Relations Officer Ch. Rakesh: “These are run like special military operations trains. Air is removed from tyres for trucks, wheels and brakes locked. They are fastened with cables to the wagon, cushioned with wooden planks. Container trains can be run faster and green channel means choosing routes without steep gradients even if it is longer.” The crew is motivated enough for the job. “Usually, we take up to 30 minutes for crew change and for minor repairs but nothing is being left to chance with less than five minutes for the new personnel to take over and locomotive on the standby at different locations,” explains 45-year-old U. Satyanarayana, among the chosen loco-pilots. At times, both electric and diesel locos are being used to run the trains, just in case there is an power issue.

Inspectors like Mr. Rao are also travelling in cabins to keep the communication links open with different sections allowing the loco-pilot to focus on running the train and look out for signals. “We picked up experienced loco-pilots who can handle pressure, high speeds (65-100 kmph) and take care of minor glitches in the engine,” he explains.

Ravi Singh, an ex-serviceman turned guard has a different experience.

“Usually, I am alone in my cabin but since Oxygen Express is crucial and needs careful handling during transit, I have an escort crew travelling with me,” adds the 42-year-old. “We are not doctors, but we are proud of having played a role in providing the critical oxygen supply. Just like there is a golden hour to rush accident victims to patients, we are all aware we are doing our bit in saving lives and there is self-satisfaction in that,” affirm the COVID rail warriors.

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