When the coronavirus struck India, the Indian Railways stepped up to help people. It converted coaches into COVID wards. When the deadly second wave struck the country this year causing a sortage of oxyegn in several states, it again stepped up by launching Oxygen Express to deliver liquid medical oxygen to these states.
The Times of India reported that in 2020-21, the Indian Railways converted a total of 5,601 train coaches into COVID Care Centres (CCCs) at a cost of ₹ 47.38 crore. With about 16 beds being made available in each coach, that mounted to over 89,600 isolation beds. However, data from different sources indicate that only 4 per cent of the beds were utilised for isolating COVID patients.
Coaches Converted To COVID Care Centres
Despite this, the conversion of coaches continued as late as April 2021. In fact, in April the Railway Ministry in a statement said these COVID Care Coaches are being deployed as per demand by the state government. They said the coaches can be used for "very mild cases"
In September 2020, Railways Minister Piyush Goyal told the Rajya Sabha that 5,601 coaches had been converted into from March to June 2020 and added that approximately ₹ 60,000 per coach was spent on minor modifications to convert them into CCCs. On average, ₹ 7,000 had been spent per patient.
In response to an RTI application, on June 10 the Railways Ministry stated that ₹ 47 crore was spent cumulatively on coach conversion. It did not provide information on aspects like state-wise distribution of these coaches, the number of patients quarantined in them. A November 2020 report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee On Health outlined that till July 21, 2020, only 454 COVID patients had utilised the facility (only 4 per cent).
In the second wave, about 200 patients were admitted in the 298 isolation coaches with 4,700-bed capacity across several states.