Will passenger trains’ suspension help contain COVID-19 spread?

Indian Railways is expected to incur around ₹1,200 crore loss due to suspension of passenger trains

Passengers board a crowded train amid worldwide coronavirus scare | PTI Photo

Indian Railways is expected to incur a loss of around ₹1,200 crore due to the suspension of passenger trains in the country from March 22 midnight till the month end in its effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

The national transporter on Sunday (March 22) announced suspension of all its passenger trains till March 31 midnight. But goods trains have been exempted. However, it remains to be seen as to how effective this suspension will be in tackling the situation.

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“No train except goods trains will run till 2400 hrs of March 31. However, a bare minimum of suburban services and the Kolkata Metro Rail service will continue to run till 2400 hours of March 22. Thereafter, these services will also be stopped till 2400 hours of March 31,” said an Indian Railways spokesperson.

India has one of the largest railway networks in the world, spanning over 95,000 km, and operates 13,523 passenger trains every day. It caters to over eight billion passengers annually.

According to official data, Indian Railways had earned about ₹51,067 crore during the 2018-19 fiscal. Considering this as an annual benchmark, the national transporter may lose out on revenue worth ₹1,259.19 crore.

Keeping aside the losses, the real question now is to what extent this suspension of passenger services will help in containing the virus spread.

Related news: Railways cancels all passenger trains till March 31 due to coronavirus

For this, we must understand the concept of basis reproduction number, denoted by R0, in the context of epidemiology. R0 is used to measure the transmission potential of a disease. In simpler words, it the average number of secondary infections that can be produced by one single case of an infection.

According to the World Health Organisation, the R0 of coronavirus is 2.5. Now, let’s consider an ideal situation where everyone is susceptible to the coronavirus infection.

For instance, in the case of railway travel, suppose if 1 per cent of the average daily passengers, which is around 23 million, get infected. Each of these 2,30,000 infected passengers can further infect 2.5 persons more they come in contact with. That is a huge number as compared to the cases we already have.

Thus, as numbers speak, it can be easily argued the suspension of trains is actually a good idea to reduce the risk of exposing passengers to the deadly virus. The Indian health sector is already under stress due to the increasing number of cases, and a move like this can certainly avoid situations that are beyond the control of the government and the health sector.

Related news: Railways relaxes refund rules for travel between March 21 and April 15

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