NEW DELHI: The Northern Railways has been tasked to conduct a feasibility study to ascertain if it can modify non-air conditioned coaches and cabins as isolation wards to treat coronavirus patients, sources said.

On Wednesday, PTI had reported how the national transporter was contemplating offering its coaches and cabins as ICU wards for the task.

The Indian Railways, which runs 13,523 trains daily, has suspended all passenger services till April 14 and its rakes are lying idle.

“We are geared to be part of the efforts to fight coronavirus and we do have huge infrastructure with us to contribute for the effort. We have already produced sanitisers for our staff, we want to manufacture essential medical equipments and offering our coaches is another way of railways exploring possibility to be part of the larger effort,” a senior official said.

Sources said the proposal to offer the empty coaches and cabins to be used as ICUs was discussed in a meeting of Railway Minister Piyush Goyal with Railway Board chairman V K Yadav, general managers of all zones and divisional railway managers over videoconferencing on Wednesday.

Some other railway zones are also experimenting to convert non-AC coaches into isolation wards. One was tried with an ICF non AC coach in Kamakhya, Guwahati, the sources said.

“We have tasked the Northern Railways with the job of exploring the feasibility of modifying coaches to create isolation wards and once they give us the go ahead we can manufacture them,” the sources said.

The mechanical department of NR along with the Delhi division are now conducting a feasibility study and they should be able to file a report in a couple of days, they said.

While discussions are underway on how railways’ production units could be used to manufacture essential commodities like ventilators, beds, trolleys the south central railway has already produced face masks, overalls, cots and side stools at its workshops and coaching depots.

According to the 2011 Census, the World Health Organisation estimated that India had only 0.7 beds per 1,000 people.

While India has targeted to increase this to two beds, WHO mandates for at least 3 beds per 1,000 people in the country.

The sources say these coaches and cabins could be used as hospitals on wheels with consultation rooms, medical store, ICU and pantry.

With the rail network spread across the country, the sources say these hospitals could be set up anywhere where clusters of such infected patients are found.

The Railways also has a slew of Accident Relief Medical Equipment Vans (ARME) or rail ambulances which could be offered to the government. These vans are usually used to treat passengers in case of rail accidents.

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