Since the isolation coaches are lying idle, the railways is planning to restore them for regular service.
With increasing demand for more and more trains, Indian Railways has decided to utilise Covid-19 isolation coaches for Shramik Specials to ferry stranded migrants across the country.
However, these isolation coaches meant for Covid-19 patients have to be restored as normal non-AC compartments before putting into use for Shramik Special service.
The reconfiguration of isolation coaches would take about a week as many changes are required to restore it to the original shape.
In a letter to all zonal railways on 21 May, the Railway Board has sought 60 per cent converted isolation coaches meant for coronavirus patients to be utilised for running as Shramik Special trains.
"Railway Board desires that 60 per cent of isolation coaches meant for intervention of COVID-19 cases, railway may utilize it for running of Shramik Specials," the letter said.
There are 5,231 non-AC coaches converted into isolation wards for coronavirus patients.
The conversion exercise involves many alterations for equipping the coach with a bathroom and other facilities. Now it has to be redone to make it a normal coach with toilets and curtains to be removed.
According to the latest directive, about 3,000 isolation coaches have to be reconverted into normal coaches.
Earlier, the government had earmarked 215 railway stations for the deployment of these isolation coaches to be used as 'Covid Care Centres' for suspected or confirmed patients categorised as mild or very mild cases.
In fact, a total of 20,000 coaches are to be converted into isolation wards as per the earlier plan to provide the facility as ‘hospital on wheels’ at distant places.
But now it seems there is a change of plan and only about 2,000 isolation coaches are to be kept for Covid-19 patients and rest to be utilised to cater to the increasing demand for more non-AC trains.
Besides Shramik and AC Specials, which are already operational, the public transporter is launching 100 pairs of popular service like Purushottam, Lucknow Mail, Vaishali Express, Samprak Kranti Express, Duronto and Jan Shatabdi Express to facilitate movement of stranded passengers from 1 June.
Since the railways is opening service in a graded manner keeping the Covid-19 pandemic in mind, there are possibilities of allowing more AC and non-AC trains in June.
There is a requirement of more and more AC and non-AC coaches to run regular trains, said a senior Railway Ministry official.
He said that since the isolation coaches are lying idle these can be utilised in non-AC trains.
Shramik Specials are fully non-AC trains so these coaches have to be reconverted into non-AC coaches for the use.
Meanwhile, the railways has allowed booking of reserved tickets through post office, Yatri Ticket Suvidha Kendra and authorised agents of IRCTC from today (22 May). Earlier, only online booking was available.
Passenger Reservation System counters at stations and Common Service Centres across the country would also offer train tickets.
Opening of all these booking facilities once again will mark an important step in the graded restoration of passenger railway services and making the task of ticket booking easy for all prospective travellers from all parts of India in reserved trains.
However, running of Shramik Special trains will continue to be handled by state governments as per the existing protocols.