Cyclone Phailin, which hit the port town of Gopalpur in Odisha around 9pm Saturday, has so far led to the cancellation of more than 180 trains passing through Odisha and Andhra Pradesh (AP).
The cyclonic storm, lashing Odisha and AP, has dealt a major blow to the freight transportation targets of the cash-strapped railways.
Bulk transportation of coal, iron ore, petroleum products and fertilizers takes place along the estimated 2,000-km trunk routes on India’s eastern coast, running through AP, Odisha and West Bengal.
Besides, the railways department is also staring at the challenge of repairing and replacing tracks that get damaged or washed away in the cyclonic storm.
“If tracks along the coast are breached, it will be a huge challenge to speedily repair and replace the tracks, as labour may be difficult to come by,” said Indra Ghosh, former general manager of the East Coast Railways (ECR).
“This will adversely impact the freight revenues.”
However, railway board chairman Arunendra Kumar did not reveal the estimated financial impact of the disaster.
“The primary task is to prevent the loss of human lives,” Kumar said.
“Affected sections have been sanitised. Crisis management groups are in place while 25 control rooms have been set up. Diesel engines, powered cars and generator sets have been positioned for lighting and signalling purposes, while accident-relief trains and medical equipment are ready at base stations.”
An official statement said local emergency arrangements for food, drinking water, medical facility as well as relief and rescue operations had been made at the affected stations.
General managers of the three affected railway zones (south central, south eastern and the ECR) are monitoring the emergency control rooms at the zonal and divisional levels, while satellite phones and facilities for relief and rescue operations have been put in place, said railways ministry spokesperson Anil Kumar Saxena.
At the zonal headquarters, the railways have set up helplines to provide information regarding further cancellation or diversion of trains. This information is also being uploaded on the railway websites. Additional refund counters are also being set up to expedite fare refunds.