By JP MISHRA (IRS)
Even as Cyclone Phailin was zeroing in on the Odisha coast, East Coast Railway (ECoR) staff had begun fanning out throughout its territory. Their task was to ensure zero casualty and the earliest possible restoration of train services on the busy Howrah-Vishakhapatnam route. That they achieved the twin goals is a tribute to their remarkable sense of duty and courage in the face of adversity.
The seemingly impossible was achieved with meticulous pre-cyclone planning, drawing on the experience of the Super Cyclone in 1999, and resolute execution on the ground. The fairly accurate meteorological forecast certainly helped ECoR prepare for the disaster better.
Having cancelled all passenger and express trains and having sanitized the route between Howrah and Visakhapatnam off all passenger rail traffic by noon of 12th October, Railways ensured that not a single passenger’s life was put to risk. This also helped to concentrate on post-cyclone restoration efforts.
Teams Take Position Early
Special teams with officers and field staff with essential equipment were positioned at 25 identified locations anticipated to bear the brunt of the cyclone. Tower cars and relief trains with a hundred plus generators, cables, signal equipment, debris-clearing equipment etc. were positioned every five-six stations away. Well equipped Railway staff kept a hawk eye at every station and within sections for any danger to railway track, bridges and signals.
The morning after the cyclone, in spite of inclement weather, the pre-positioned teams started inspection and repair work on a war footing. By 2 pm in the afternoon, the route between Puri and Howrah and North India was declared fit for running of Express trains. The teams worked day-long and by night, the track between Khurda Road and Palasa leading to Visakhapatnam, had been made fit for running of trains with diesel engines. The daunting task of removing hundreds of trees from Railway tracks and overhead equipment wires had been achieved with the untiring efforts of Railway staff.
To ensure safety and to prevent overturning or breaking away of trains due to high speed, all goods trains controlled in the affected section were secured properly with chains, handbrakes, etc. There was not a single incidence of such case despite very high wind speeds of 220 kmph. Again, working the whole night, the overhead wires were put back in place and train operations with electric engines were restored by 10 am on Monday.
Running Trains without Power
However, due to non-availability of power supply from the State Grid at four Railway Sub-stations in Balugaon-Brahmapur section caused due to razing of the HT towers of Odisha Power Transmission Corporation Ltd. (OPTCL), Railways had to extend the electric supply from other sub-stations at Kaipadar near Khordha in Odisha and Baruvva near Palasa in Andhra Pradesh to ensure normalcy in running of all South-bound and Mumbai-bound Express and Passenger Trains.
To maintain coal supply to all South India power stations located in Andhra Pradesh and beyond where coal stocks had reached critical levels, many coal trains were diverted via Sambalpur-Vizianagaram route by diesel engine. Essential commodities like LPG, diesel etc. were rushed to the major distribution centre at Khurda Road.
Crisis Management Group
Giving guidance to field officials in Khurda Road and Waltair Divisions were the Divisional Control Rooms at Khurda Road and Visakhapatnam. The Divisional Controls were continuously monitored and given on-the-spot decision and spot approvals of crucial decisions by the Zonal Crisis Management Group (CMG) consisting of key heads of departments. The CMG operated for more than 72 hours without a break, giving crucial inputs to field levels.
Public perceptions and demands were gauged quickly through field staff and media inputs by the PR team of Railways. Special trains to Howrah, Mumbai and Chennai helped to clear thousands of stranded passengers at Puri, Bhubaneswar, Visakhapatnam and other Railway stations. Extra coaches were attached to regular trains to ensure that last-minute passengers were accommodated. In sum, the quick restoration of train services provided relief to a number of passengers and helped to instil confidence and trust in the Nation’s Lifeline.
[The author is Chief Public Relations Officer of East Coast Railway]