With 13,500 trains across Indian Railways laying idle due to Covid-19, it will not be possible to get them all moving in one go once lockdown ends. These rakes will be operationalized in a phased manner after their fitness is certified. Passenger trains and locomotives are rarely left idle. This is the first time these machines have come to a standstill for such a long time. Indian Railways is working hard behind the scenes to keep them fit for operations.
“To charge batteries of an entire rake requires at least 7-8 hours. Hence rail traffic won’t be full-fledged even if lockdown is withdrawn after May 3. The stranded trains will have to be first brought on pitline and all parameters checked and certified before they’re okayed for running,” said senior railway officials.
Sources said the problem is well anticipated. Hence, Railways will intimate the requirement of rakes 3-4 days in advance of start. Even if traffic is allowed, trains will run as specials on select routes by advanced bookings on limited seats to maintain social distancing.
Preparations are already on to keep the trains ready. Take for example the Central Railway that has five divisions i.e. Bhusawal, Pune, Nagpur, Mumbai and Solapur. These have 267 mail/express train locos, 515 goods train engines, 222 primary rakes for long distance travel including DEMU rakes, besides 155 suburban local train (EMU) rakes that operate in Mumbai.
Of the 515 locos, about 10% may be in use for freight train operations. Central Railway chief public relations officer (CPRO) Shivaji Sutar said, “Apart from safety of all EMU rakes at various sidings, we have planned to move these rakes 400-800 metres as per availability of space to ensure traction motor bearings remain functional. Movement of all siding rakes will be covered in one week.” Sutar added, “All stabled rakes at various sidings are charged for maintaining proper battery voltage. Safety check of these rakes is also ensured which includes checking of parking brakes, wooden wedges, and all cables. Moreover, RPF is vigilant 24×7 to protect these moving assets.”
M Umashankar Kumar, CPRO of South Central Railway (SCR), said, “We have a holding of 5,000 coaches which will be made ready as per the Railway Board orders.” Senior railway officials with electrical and mechanical departments said maintaining this huge rolling stock is a daunting task which the staff was carrying on.
“Like any vehicle, batteries of locos and coaches are being maintained daily by charging. We need to move engines front and back to ensure no part is loose and grease doesn’t solidify. While parked brakes of engines are applied, at times they get stuck hence need to be checked,” they said.
A senior officer said, “As part of our readiness, passenger rakes originating from Nagpur are being run till Kalmeshwar and Katol and other places so bearings and brakes remain functional. Engines are also moved. Two days ago Pune Garib Rath was placed on Platform 2 for charging.”
“During summers we also need to check humidity and air pressure. Besides, the pantograph on the engine rooftop needs to be lifted up and down to see it is collecting current. These activities are being carried out regularly. Even a shunter, who is involved in shunting trains, can carry out these functions,” they said.
“As of now only freight trains are being run with loco pilots on rotation. Passenger train pilots are being diverted to maintain locos parked in yards and sidings. Our main job is to see batteries are not discharged. We charge them daily for 1.5 hours so that locos function normally,” said loco pilots.