Tackling Cyclone Phailin – Brave Stories from the Railway Tracks

Bhubaneswar:  For East Coast Railway, cyclone Phailin was a major challenge that was decided to be met with strong and resolute preparations and ground work.  Taking advantage of the meteorological forecasts and also the experiences of devastation to Railway property in the super cyclone of 1999, the Railway story of NIL casualties and early restoration of train services can be attributed to planned approach to disaster management.

NO RISK TO PASSENGERS:

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.

PRE-POSITIONING OF SPECIAL TEAMS:

Special teams with officers and field staff with essential equipments had been pre-positioned at 25 identified locations anticipated to bear the burnt of the cyclone.  Tower cars and relief trains with a hundred plus generators, cables, signal equipments, debris-clearing equipments, etc. were positioned every five-six stations away.  Staff, well-equipped and personally taken care of, had been o­n sharp look-out at every station and within sections, for any danger to railway track, bridges and signals.

EARLY RESTORATION:

Early morning after the cyclone, in spite of inclement weather, the pre-positioned teams started inspection and repair works at urgent speed.   By 02.00pm 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 equipments wires had been achieved.

SAFETY OF TRAIN OPERATIONS:

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 220kmph. Again, working the whole night, the overhead wires were slewn back to place and train operations with electric engines were back in place by 10.00a.m of 14.10.2013.

RUNNING TRAINS IN SPITE OF NO POWER SUPPLY:

However, due to non-availability of power supply from the State Grid at 04 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.

VITAL COMMODITIES CARRIED BY FREIGHT TRAINS:

To maintain coal supply to all South India Power Houses 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 AND EMERGENCY CONTROL:

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.  This CMG operated for more than 72 hours without a break, giving crucial inputs to field levels.

VITAL PUBLIC & MEDIA INPUTS:

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.

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