A short circuit in electrical wiring or presence of inflammable chemicals might have caused the fire in the S-11 coach of Tamil Nadu Express going by the feedback of railway experts, even as the two-day statutory inquiry by Commissioner of Railway Safety D.K. Singh began at the railway station here on Thursday.
Sabotage ruled out
Ruling out the possible causes of sabotage and hot axle, the experts say the manner in which smoke spread in S-11 coach accompanied by leaping flames within 12 minutes indicated that there was an electrical malfunction. There was no outlet for the fumes as all windowpanes, including their glass doors were shut by passengers, in view of lashing rain till a few minutes prior to the accident.
Unlike in A/C coaches, some windows are usually kept open by passengers in the sleeper coaches, but the S-11 was totally shut that fateful day. Short circuit had the chance to quickly spread all over. It did not spread to other coaches because the train was halted and fire fighting teams arrived swiftly. The faulty electrical and lighting cables might not have been detected in daily checking at the journey origin point.
If foolproof checking had indeed been carried out as it was a super-fast long-distance train, the other possible reason could be carrying of inflammables by a travelling trader or representative who had no intention to cause loss of life.
Chemicals, chemical films, rectified spirit and such inflammable materials were likely to be carried secretly as they are not permitted for safety reasons. Some say this could not have been possible in the prestigious T.N. Express because of higher vigil by TTEs and railway police. The other possible cause of hot axle was ruled out as it occurs in sweltering weather.
Mithun Nair, one of the survivors and a resident of Chennai, told the inquiry that his friend Ramalingam woke him up when he saw flames. He panicked and quickly got down the coach. By the time he thought of going back to get his costly baggage, flames rose high. An employee of Gemini Communications, Mithun wanted to know whether the accident manual permits him to claim for loss of an SLR camera, laptop and other equipment, costing Rs.6 lakh.
TTE Kamalakanth, who was incharge of S-11, along with other TTEs present on the ill-fated train arrived to attend the inquiry. Nearly 87 railway employees, directly and indirectly connected with the train movement from Delhi to Chennai, were directed to appear before CRS. They refused to talk about their statements. District officials and fire authorities involved in the rescue operations also were present.