How Railways might play a crucial role in vaccine transportation


The Indian Railways’ expansive network is now a favourable choice for the herculean task that the transportation of the Covid-19 vaccine will entail, once it is out and approved by the Centre.

The national carrier is mulling over the possibility of deploying its specially designed refrigerated vans for the purpose and is in talks with several ministries to finalise a plan.

To perk up its cold storage facilities for the vaccine, special refrigerated vans may be set aside for transporting the vaccine or luggage compartments may be modified into temperature-controlled units.

With a deep freezer capable of handling temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees Celsius, Refrigerated vans have the capacity to carry 17 tonnes of cargo.

The vans have a capacity to carry 5 tonnes of frozen items and an additional capacity of 12 tonnes to carry perishable cargo like fruit and vegetables at 40°C temperature.

“We are discussing possibilities, no final decision has been taken but we are continuously in touch with the concerned ministries for the same and wherever the need arises, railways will come forward and help the country. We are having continuous discussion over this.”

~VK Yadav, Railway Board chairman and CEO

At present, Indian Railways operates refrigerated parcel vans on selected mail express trains for transporting perishable cargo like fruits, vegetables, dairy products, fish and meat.

In August this year, the transporter also began drawing out a seamless national cold supply chain for perishables lie milk, meat and fish on Kisan Rail trains.

Refrigerated parcel vans with a capacity of carrying 17 tonnes of highly perishable freight have been designed, developed and procured through Rail Coach Factory, Kapurthala. At present, Indian Railway has a fleet of nine such vans. These vans are booked on a round-trip basis, and cost 1.5 times the normal freight carriers.

As shared by industry sources,  Railway coaches can be modified either to directly implant boxed cold storage vans inside them, by keeping constant power supply etc, or the entire coach can be redesigned to have one. The Linke-Hofmann-Busch coaches in Rajdhani trains, used in pantry cars etc, have already had some modifications for cold storage. Railways has lot of coach repair and design production units and workshops. It is not difficult to redesign the thermodynamics of a rail coach and insulate it to colder temperatures. It is efficient and can be supplied to any part of the country.

The national carrier also utilises Reefer rail containers that are ventilated and insulated. At present, railways has 98 ventilated and insulated containers with a capacity of 12 tonnes per container and a rake composition of 80 containers that have been procured through its subsidiary Container Corporation of India (CONCOR).

Reefers regulate the movement of cargo that demands a strict temperature-controlled environment. CONCOR provides reefer services, at present .

As shared by the ministry, Indian Railways has “temperature controlled perishable cargo centres” for cold storage Ghazipur Ghat (UP), New Azadpur (Adarsh Nagar, Delhi) and Raja ka Talab (UP) under CONCOR’s Kisan Vision Project. Another project is under construction at Lasalgaon, Nashik (Maharashtra). Approval has also been granted to Central Railside Warehousing Corporation to develop temperature controlled storages at Fatuha in Bihar and Mancheswar in Odisha.

The Centre is now ramping up preparations for setting up a cold storage chain for the much-anticipated Covid-19 vaccine that will eventually be approved for use in India, and is finalising transport arrangements with top airlines as well.

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