An escort team of the Railway Protection Force, Southern Railway, was the first to respond to the fire on Coach S-11 of the New Delhi-Chennai Central Tamil Nadu Express near Nellore in the wee hours on Monday. The three-member team, including two head constables, managed to move at least 25 passengers to safety, police sources said.
According to the Chief Security Commissioner (Southern Railway) V.K. Dhaka, the escort team on board the superfast express reached the scene of fire within minutes and commenced rescue operations. “The priority was to move the passengers to safety. Almost all the passengers were sleeping when the fire occurred. The RPF personnel did their best,” he said.
When the train came to a halt after someone pulled the alarm chain, a constable stationed in coach S-8 observed thick smoke billowing out of S-11 and alerted the other two personnel through wireless communication. The team rushed to the burning coach and evacuated as many passengers as possible.
“It was pitch dark in the coach. They used search lights to guide passengers to the exit. Amid poor visibility, smoke and suffocation, the three – Subba Rao, Santhosh and Shyjumon - managed to move about 25 passengers to safety. There was chaos in Coach S-10 as well since passengers there feared that the fire might spread,” Senior Divisional Security Commissioner S.R. Gandhi said.
Parrying questions on the cause of fire, he said forensic experts had examined the coach stationed at Nellore and the circumstances that led to the incident could be ascertained only after a detailed investigation.
Railway sources said the Tamil Nadu Express is a vestibule train in which passengers could move to adjacent coaches on either side. Quoting some passengers, who either survivors of Coach S-11 or travelled in adjacent compartments, a Government Railway Police official said the fire broke out from the toilet end on one side thereby blocking one vestibule and two doors.
More than 90 per cent of the 72 passengers, including 19 women, on board Coach S-11 had Tatkal tickets.