Recurring fire accidents jolt Railways into action

Things have gone from bad to worse for the Railways, with as many as four incidents of fire being reported on trains in less than a fortnight, two of them claiming the lives of 35 sleeping passengers.

After the Bangalore-Nanded Express fire claimed 26 lives on December 28, three sleeper-class coaches of the Mumbai-Dehradun Express caught fire on Wednesday killing nine persons.

In 2012-13, fire broke out in an AC coach of the Tamil Nadu Express killing 30 people. .

On Monday, a sleeper coach of the Mumbai-Howrah Mail caught fire, but no casualty was reported. On Wednesday, the Delhi-Lucknow Shatabdi Express suffered a brake jam resulting in smoke emanating from the affected wheels. But Railways consider this a mere “incident” and not an accident.

On Sunday night, according to sources, a goods train was allowed to proceed from Daltonganj in Jharkhand despite fire in one of its coal wagons. The fire had spread to six wagons by the time it was stopped at Garwah Road and extinguished.

The death toll in the Dehradun express inferno was nine only because occupancy was low — only 68 reserved passengers were travelling in the three sleeper compartments that could accommodate 216.

Even after the gateman’s alert, the train travelled more than 1,400 metres before it was brought to a halt by disconnecting the overhead power supply. By that time, however, the fire had spread to three bogies. The sleeper class coaches are not provided with fire extinguishers.Shockingly, it took four incidents of fire before the railways woke up to the seriousness of the situation.

Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge summoned a meeting of the Railway Board and called for an urgent review of safety measures on all trains.

Consequently, Chairman Railway Board Arunendra Kumar has ordered evaluation of the entire gamut of fire-fighting measures on all trains. He also intends to hold a meeting of top officials soon.

Mr. Kumar, however, clarified that electrical wirings were inspected after the December tragedy. Now all fire-retardant material being supplied by private contractors would be subjected to a test to see if they meet the specifications. Enumeration of the entire anti-fire system would be completed within three weeks.

Sadly enough, none has been held responsible for these lapses.

However, a similar lapse in November last when the MR’s Saloon suffered a brake failure in Lucknow saw the suspension of two senior officers, which was revoked later, though.

Official sources said that fire extinguishers would be provided on all trains. All coaches would have four emergency exit windows and training in fire-fighting would be imparted to the staff. Field trial of the fire and smoke detection system developed by an Australian firm is being carried out on the Jammu-Rajdhani Express. It gives out an audio and visual signal. The cost of installing the system in an entire rake is about Rs. 51 lakh.

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