The fire that broke out in Nanded Express in Anantapur district in the early hours of Saturday could not have been so devastating without the presence of a highly inflammable material in the vicinity.

The chance of short-circuit cannot be ruled out at this stage, but the catalytic role of some explosive or inflammable substance in the coach is evident from the gory scene.

Fire could not have converted the AC coach into a cauldron within such a short span without being aided by incendiary objects, said South Central Railway Senior Divisional Electrical Engineer (Operations), Vijayawada division, G.P. Muthalik.

Short-circuiting?

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Muthalik said that there was a very remote chance of short-circuit as the wiring was fully protected and the positive and negative wires run from opposite ends of a coach, which eliminates the scope of them sparking any fire.

These wires come together only at the points where fans and lights are fitted. Besides, the coaches are protected with fuses.

Short-circuits therefore rarely happen in any coach whether it is a general or an air-conditioned one.

A catalyst?

Even in such an eventuality, fire requires an agent to spread at the kind of the blistering pace which it did in the ill-fated coach of Nanded Express.

Mr. Muthalik said that the Nanded Express disaster had striking parallels with those of the Gautami Express and Tamil Nadu Express trains in which scores were burnt alive in 2008 and 2012 respectively. In both these cases, short-circuit was believed to be the cause of fire, which could not have engulfed the non-AC coaches within minutes without being fuelled by something. Such incidents require a detailed examination by forensic experts and the railway officials concerned, he observed.

Officials unconvinced

Even as the possibility of a short-circuit on board the ill-fated B 1 air-conditioned coach of the Bangalore-Nanded Express is widely being discussed, senior railway officials appear to be convinced that it could not be the reason.

“If you look into the background, every such fire mishap involving air-conditioned coaches has happened at night, when the power load is minimum. If a mishap had happened during the day, it would be understandable,” said an officer, on condition of anonymity.

Previous mishaps

He pointed out that whether it was the fire aboard Gautami Express in August, 2008, the mishap involving Padmavathi Express, a month later, the Tamil Nadu Express accident in July 2012 and the latest incident, none of them had taken place in the day, justifying the contention of the railway officers.

As for the TN Express mishap in Nellore, he recalled that the forensic report had stated that the fire was because of crackers being carried on board the coach.

‘Tricky case’

At an internal meeting that the Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge held with officers on Sunday at Gulbarga too, the contention expressed was that no investigating agency was going into the depth of a mishap and was unable to pinpoint the cause.

“It is a tricky case,” Mr. Kharge was understood to have said, asking railway officers to hold on to their analysis till the forensic report was received.