Also known as the ‘Magic Train of India’ and ‘surgical hospital on wheels’, the Lifeline Express is a train that has the facilities of a hospital while running on the railway tracks. It is commonly denoted as ‘the Hospital Train’ which scurries through the vast landscape of the Indian subcontinent to provide its services at different locations. It was flagged off from Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus on its inaugural journey on July 16, 1991.
The Lifeline Express has been started as the result of an alliance between the Impact India Foundation (IIF), Indian Railways and the Health Ministry. Impact India Foundation is a non-profit, non-government organization (NGO) spread over seven countries around the world. Its Indian branch at Mumbai proposed the idea to the Ministry of Railways. They shared this concept with the Indian Railways and signed a Memorandum of Understanding in which the Railways agreed to make available a train with three coaches, water and electricity supply, while the IIF would operate the medical facilities. The regular maintenance, fuel, and even the pantry facilities are looked after by the Indian Railways. The train’s founder Zelma Lazarus resides in Bandra, Mumbai. The train is sponsored by IIF, international charitable sources such as the World Health Organization, the UN children’s agency UNICEF, as well as corporates and individuals (public and private).
Lifeline or Jeevan Rekha Express has made a tremendous impact both in India and around the world, where it has inspired similar initiatives. The train covers the whole country while visiting different areas, mainly rural areas or sites hit by natural disasters, and has successfully completed 29 years of service. It has been true to its name and aims to reach the remote and far-flung areas to bring relief free of cost to the doorstep of the poor, underprivileged, disabled and deprived patients who lack access to hospitals and medical facilities. The train stays in each place for several days or weeks while medical facilities (routine, and easy to major surgeries) are delivered to people.
Lifeline Express also provides spot diagnostic services, and medical and surgical treatment, even for disabled people. After the train leaves, follow up services are provided by the local bodies.
The Lifeline Express now has seven coaches which have all the modern facilities, including air conditioning and WiFi, and special recovery rooms for patients, two fully equipped functioning state-of-the-art operation theatres, onboard power generators, well equipped pantry, medical supplies, pathology lab, mammography unit, orthopaedic surgery, neurological treatment unit, dental facilities, an x-ray machine, pharmacy, consultation cubicles and lodging for medical staff. The surgeons and doctors on board continue to treat a large number of medical conditions including epilepsy, cataract, cancer, cleft lips, polio, plastic surgeries, dental and oral surgeries, burns and disabilities and disorders of the eye, ear, nose, and limbs.
The Lifeline Express has traveled to rural villages situated in different parts of India to render medical facilities that include consultation, treatment throat and surgeries in various domains, in the years following its inception. Its last known location as per the website of Impact India Foundation (IIF) was Dumka, Rajasthan from February 20 to March 9, 2019. This was the train’s project number 201 and was sponsored by Aditya Birla Sun Life AMC Ltd. The train also gives volunteer doctors and medical students an opportunity to sharpen their skills while doing community work and aims to inform doctors and people about the correct approach to wellness and health.
The Lifeline Express as an example has been copied in countries like China, Africa and riverboat hospitals in Bangladesh and Cambodia. The train has also received numerous distinctions such as the United Nations Grand Award for Excellence in Public Service and has been recognized by the government with a national stamp which has the image of Lifeline Express.
The Lifeline Express has treated more than one million and has performed surgery on more than one lakh people. It has fulfilled social welfare aspirations by providing doorstep medical assistance to the people residing in rural India by leveraging the route length of more than 67,000 km of India’s vast railway network. The train has mitigated the misery of the disabled and the underprivileged in remote areas who do not have the means, funds and facilities for treatment by providing free of cost healthcare facilities.