Once run for ‘gora sahib’, India’s oldest train is now a lifeline for cancer patients

AGRA: Once meant for ‘gora sahib’ (the British), the country’s oldest operational train, Punjab Mail, earlier known as ‘Punjab Limited’, has now become a lifeline for scores of cancer patients who have to travel over 1,900 km from Punjab to Mumbai via New Delhi, Agra, Gwalior, Jhansi and Bhopal for their routine check-ups.
According to railway officials, over 2,000 patients travel on this train every month and they are not charged for the 32-hour-journey. On June 1, the iconic train completes its 106 years of service.
The Punjab Mail made its maiden journey on June 1, 1912, from Ballard Pier Mole station (Mumbai) to Peshawar (Pakistan), covering 2,496 km distance. After partition, its route changed from Firozpur to Mumbai Victoria Terminus (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus). Earlier, there were three first class coaches for 96 English passengers, along with three coaches for postal goods. However, now, it has 10 sleeper, eight AC and two general coaches which are mostly used by cancer patients.
Sanchit Tyagi, divisional commercial manager of Agra division said, “The railways gives 100 % concession to cancer patients for III tier AC and sleeper coaches along with 75 % concession to the attendee traveling with patient. While for II tier AC, the patient has to pay 50% charge for the ticket. There is even a special emergency medical quota for patients in the train for a confirmed berth.”
He said, “Every month from Agra over 60 cancer patients board Punjab Mail for Mumbai, while a similar trend is observed from Firozpur, Bathinda, New Delhi, Gwalior, Jhansi, Bina, Bhopal, and stations falling in the route of the 106-year-old train. Majority of the patients are from Punjab and northern part of India, who visit Cancer Research Institute Tata Memorial Centre for radio and chemotherapy.”
Dr. Narendra Deo, senior surgical oncologist of reputed private hospital in Agra said, “The patients who travel to Mumbai via train, mostly comprise of oral, gallbladder, ovarian and breast cancer. In Agra and surrounding region over 40 % cancer patients are of oral, who consume tobacco, while in Punjab region gallbladder cancer is most common. Therefore patients who cannot afford expensive treatment visit Tata Memorial Centre and train is best and viable option.”

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