The pandemic started with its epicenter in China in 2019 and has been continuously spreading across the globe, so far 216 countries and territories have been affected with COVID-19, the U.S. being on the top with cases reaching to about 4.38 million, followed by Brazil, India and then by many European countries such as Russia, Spain, Italy and others. The spread of Coronavirus has led to the global recession, many companies are being bound to take stringent actions of laying of their employees, small business are being shut, manufacturing facilities are being halted. There has been a disruption in supply chain of many industries due to restriction in logistics and shutdown of manufacturing facilities. In addition, the slowdown in economy has lowered the spending capability of individuals and people are saving money for emergencies.
COVID-19 outbreak has badly impacted the railway industry, further affecting the railway operators, vehicle owners, and rolling stock industry. With a substantial drop in travel, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted commuter rail, leading to boundary closures and social distancing legislation. There has been a change in mobility behavior, as growing number of people are working from home and increasing use of private cars, as compared to public transport. In 2020, a drop of 35% is expected in long-distance, regional, and urban rail passengers, triggered by partial and complete lockdown imposed across the globe.
The railway industries are facing a historical and unparalleled economic crisis, owing to the severity of the lockdowns, the related travel restrictions and the anticipated global recession, and further undermined by the effect of the associated global recession on employment and morale. Globally, operation and human mobility restrictions coupled with no-travel advice from the authorities have resulted in a drop in passenger volumes by nearly 80% for all national rail services during lockdowns. For international rail passenger services, in line with international passenger border closures, passenger numbers have fallen by almost 100% for both operators. For freight activities, the volumes for most operators have been hit with an average projected loss of between 10-15%.
Some of the steps taken by railway sector in different countries include:
Data, education and communication (IEC) posters and pamphlets relating to COVID-19 are displayed in local languages at railway stations and on trains in order to increase public awareness. They are also distributed to patients who attend hospitals as well as in colonies of the Railway. Public announcements are now being made and audio/video recordings at train stations are being played.
A total of 1,100 isolation beds have been provided for fever-related cases in railway hospitals, treating reported cases of COVID-19 with the availability of protective gear. Indian Railways have listed 12,483 beds at different locations around the country for quarantine.
Globally, rail traffic has been heavily affected by COVID-19. Therefore, rail and public transportation receive governmental support in many countries, but not everywhere.
Moreover, there has been an adoption of new technologies, in order to mitigate the spread of the virus. This includes the use of drones at railway stations, the use of disinfecting machines, the removal of QR-coded physical tickets, the 'hotspot identification zone' and the replacement of stainless steel and plastic with copper or cardboard on commonly used surfaces in train interiors, among others. As a result, the current pandemic has interrupted the regular rhythm of rail industry; however, it also provides an opportunity for the implementation of new technologies, employment of workforce, keeping in mind the consumer preferences and subsequent transportation demand for passengers and goods.