Wheels locked, will unlocked: Railway probationers' helpline delivering critical aid to 'any station'

The probationary officers, who are currently undergoing training at Udaipur and Vadodara, are being assisted by a handful of their seniors.

Published: 22nd April 2020 05:28 PM  |   Last Updated: 22nd April 2020 05:28 PM   |  A+A-

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NEW DELHI: “You came like an angel in our life.” Guwahati’s Rinku Singh posted this on Twitter for an Indian Railway probationer who ensured his mother’s cancer medicines are delivered to her at Silchar in time.

The officer Singh addressed is part of a team of around 30 Indian Railway Traffic Service (IRTS) probationers that has launched a helpline - 8448848477 and Twitter handle @IRTSSETU -- to assist delivery of essentials from “any station” to “any station” during the lockdown, when movement of people is almost completely restricted, using the vast railway network.

In the first five days since its launch, the helpline has received over 1,000 SOSes for assistance during the lockdown - panic calls, requests for ration, medicines, milk, help for stranded family members, among others.

The team has managed to drop essential goods at over 100 locations through parcel trains, using their own cellphones and the Twitter account, and working in close coordination with district officials.

The probationary officers, who are currently undergoing training at Udaipur and Vadodara, are being assisted by a handful of their seniors.

The team is facilitating the movement of not just large consignments of raw material for making Personal Protective Equipment and masks, but also grocery, milk and other essentials at peoples’ doorstep as they remain restricted at home due to the lockdown.

"It started as a platform to facilitate movement of goods during the lockdown," says Mallela Srikant, one of the brains behind this initiative. But its role evolved.

“Now, we take calls (from people in distress) and use the railway network to ensure that the goods (they critically need) reaches them. We are responding to critical calls and informing the local authorities about the situation.”

The young IRTS officer, who is currently posted as Area Officer in Ramagumdum in Secunderabad Division, said the ‘Setu Express’ team liaisons with railways zones, divisions and district officials to deliver these items of critical need.

In certain cities, he said, they have tied up with startups who provide the last-mile connectivity so that the goods are delivered at the doorstep of the consumer in emergency cases.


The initiative has also helped industries and factories kickstart their businesses after the April 20 relaxations in the lockdown norms.

It carried PPEs made in Tiruppur to a hospital in Salem, which reported a shortage of the critical item, drugs from Himachal Pradesh to Delhi, and coordinated with the National Pharmaceutical Association to carry ventilators and masks.

When Guwahati’s Rinku Singh called in asking for urgent delivery of cancer medicines for his mother in Silchar, an officer sent his staff out to buy the required prescriptions. And it was delivered in time.

"Dear @UmsiNFR sir,” an overwhelmed Singh wrote back on Twitter, “you came like an angel in our life.”

“I really don't have any words to show my gratitude for what you have done. From buying the meds in Ghy to delivering the same to my mother in Silchar. I salute you and your team for this excellent job.”

There have been instances where the Setu Express team tied up with the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) to ensure doorstep delivery of goods.

The medicine for a mental health patient was picked up from a hospital in Agra by the local administration and handed over to the station master. It was then moved to Mathura in a goods train where an NDRF team received up and delivered at the home of the patient.

The team is going beyond their call of duty to help people in these extraordinary times.

They prevented a migrant labourer from being evicted from his rented residence in Hyderabad and ran errands to provide ration at six places -- Jalandhar, Pimpri, Gorakhpur, Gurgaon, Srinagar and Varanasi -- all, because someone rang them in distress.

"It could be a new business model for railways and we are preparing a document suggesting ways in which our parcel business can be revived,” says Srikant. “We want to make booking parcels easier, simpler and basically just like 'ease of business', we want to ensure 'ease of movement."

But the focus of the team now is to ensure relief for people under lockdown, he said.

The Twitter handle, @IRTSSETU, is flooded with notes of thank you from people from across the country for swift delivery of life-saving medicines, ferrying farm harvests to cities, and for making sure a caller’s daughters stranded alone in another city have food and other essentials.

Srikant says this initiative couldn't have been successful without the help of senior IRTS officials spread across the railway network who are cooperating with the team.

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