How the railway industry went the extra mile during Covid-19

Adele Berti 23 June 2020 (Last Updated May 29th, 2020 10:37)

The Covid-19 crisis is posing serious challenges to the railways, but amongst the bad news are also positive stories where the industry has rallied to help communities in need. We take a closer look at how the sector has helped out during the pandemic.

How the railway industry went the extra mile during Covid-19
GTR has rebranded three trains to show gratitude and solidarity towards medical workers. Credit: Govia Thameslink Railway.

SNCF donates blankets and food in Paris

Having halted services on its high-speed line TGV Inoui earlier in April, French railway operator Société nationale des chemins de fer français (SNCF) found itself with an excess of 3,000 food products that were meant to be distributed on its trains. 

The company then decided to donate these products to charity Samu Social de Paris, which works to provide shelter and aid to homeless people in Paris. Donations included salads, sandwiches, hot dishes or desserts. 

Samu Social de Paris also received some 3,150 duvets previously destined for SNCF’s night trains. The blankets are currently being used at social centres that welcome vulnerable people.

Deutsche Bahn launches aid package for charities across Germany


Ahead of the Easter break, German rail operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) launched a rescue package for charities across Germany. 

As part of the initiative, the operator donated hygiene items including sanitisers and protective equipment to both staff and those being helped by the charity. In addition, the company and its namesake foundation delivered hundreds of meals across Berlin on Good Friday and some 10,000 chocolate rabbits in celebration of Easter.

The DB Foundation also released an additional aid package allowing station missions access to up to €100,000 to purchase anything from food to clothes, masks and more. 

Indian Railways turns trains into hospital beds for Covid-19 patients

At the beginning of April, Indian Railways announced plans to convert some 20,000 train carriages into isolation wards for Covid-19 patients. The measure aims to provide much-needed relief to the country’s healthcare system which had been struggling with capacity long before the pandemic.


Capable of accommodating 16 passengers each, the carriages also have space for a doctor and nurse’s station, beds and storage of medical supplies. Once on the tracks, the trains can travel wherever needed across more than 7,300 stations across the network.

The move is not unusual for Indian Railways, which already operates five non-train-based hospitals in the country and has been running the so-called Lifeline Express mobile hospital since 1991.

‘Medicalised trains’ in Spain and France

The uneven distribution of Covid-19 cases in both Spain and France has led to overcrowding in some hospitals and left others less busy. To address this issue, local operators decided to retrofit some trains to transport patients from congested areas to less-affected regions. 

Spain’s Renfe, for example, partnered with manufacturer Talgo to retrofit three high-speed trains as emergency transport for positive cases. 

As for France, in late March the world’s first ‘medicalised TGV’ left Paris for Strasbourg while carrying  20 patients with coronavirus. According to the Telegraph, onboard staff for each carriage included an anaesthetist-reanimator, an intern, a nurse anaesthetist and three nurses. The train’s dining carriage was repurposed as a medical operations centre. 

UK railways provide free travel to escape domestic abuse during Covid-19 lockdown

British rail operators recently partnered with charity Women’s Aid to allow victims of domestic abuse to travel for free during the lockdown. The initiative came after Women’s Aid figures showed a 41% increase in users of its online live chat service in the first week of lockdown in the UK.

To help sufferers escape from domestic abusers, industry body the Rail Delivery Group announced victims can apply to get a free ticket to reach a safe destination. 

The ‘Rail to refuge’ scheme was already in place on lines operated by Southeastern and Great Western Railway before the outbreak and has now been extended to other members of the RDG.

Siemens Mobility donates to food banks in the US

Both Siemens Mobility and its parent company Siemens AG have made $150,000 donations to food banks across ten cities in the US, including New York, Sacramento and Atlanta.

Meanwhile, the managing board of Siemens AG recently set up a Covid-19 aid fund aimed at supporting individuals, relief organisations and medical facilities in the fight against the outbreak.

Siemens CEO and president Joe Kaeser kick-started the fund with a €1m donation and encouraged employees around the world to contribute.

Network Rail creates STEM learning resources for children at home

With UK schools shutting down at the end of March, infrastructure manager Network Rail put together a pack of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) learning resources and activities for children staying at home.

The initiative was initially intended for Network Rail employees but was later extended to families in a bid to encourage more young people to pursue a career using STEM subjects.

Network Rail has also made seven of its distribution centres available to the government’s Transport Support Unit and provided engineers to help fit out the new Nightingale hospital in Manchester. The company’s employees in the Northeast of England have also been donating spare personal protective equipment (PPE) to the local hospital.

Rail workers have been proving crucial in helping tackle the pandemic, but some of them have gone the extra mile. Some 200 retired signallers returned to work as volunteers as Network Rail struggled with staff shortages as a result of the crisis.

Alstom 3D prints protective equipment

French manufacturer Alstom is currently producing visors for face shields and ventilator valves. The majority of the production is taking place at Alstom’s Barcelona 3D printing hub, where engineers are also working to develop new solutions to protect essential workers. These include personal protectors for door handles and manufacturing masks made of antibacterial materials.

Alstom’s Chinese team have also helped distribute masks to drivers and operators, while employees in the United Arab Emirates raised funds to provide grocery vouchers and multivitamins to struggling families.  

Railways show solidarity to Covid-19 frontline staff with horns and banners

Rail companies around the world have been expressing solidarity and gratitude towards essential workers with a host of initiatives that included media campaigns, horn blasts and banners. 

For example, in mid-April Amtrak, the New York Metropolitan Authority and other US rail stakeholders launched a coordinated effort to simultaneously sound vehicle horns in support of frontline workers. 

In the UK, operator Govia Thameslink Railway recently rebranded three trains to show gratitude and solidarity towards medical workers. 

Finally, Northern Ireland public transport operator Translink launched a ‘Chase the Rainbow’ campaign as part of which it transformed two trains into ‘trainbows’ sending messages of hope during the crisis.