So far this year, five incidents of fire have been reported on running trains

The Railways has apparently not learnt from past incidents. Last year, a fire in the Tamil Nadu Express claimed 30 lives and on Saturday another inferno killed 26 passengers, most of them when they were asleep.

Distressingly, the causes of fire during 2012-13 have mostly been attributed to a failure on the part of the cash-strapped Railways, which has virtually thrown up its hands.

So far this year, five incidents of fire have been reported on running trains. The two major fire incidents in recent times have been reported from the Andhra Pradesh region.

The fire in the air conditioned coach of the Bangalore-Nanded Express near Anantpur in Andhra Pradesh has been prima facie attributed to a short-circuit. In the case of the Tamil Nadu Express that caught fire near Nellore in Andhra Pradesh in July last year, an enquiry report put the blame on fire crackers.

Saturday’s incident bears a striking resemblance to the one involving the premium train Rajdhani Express from Dibrugarh to Delhi just a couple of months ago. The fire in the Rajdhani’s pantry car was attributed to a short circuit in the electric socket. However, no casualty was reported though the fire broke out early in the morning in that case too.

According to an analysis, poor maintenance was the cause of two recent incidents of fire on trains; one was blamed on a short circuit and another on negligence during trouble shooting. Enquiries are underway in two other cases.

The conclusion one draws is that the incidents of fire in air conditioned coaches, which are more frequent than in general coaches, must have something to do with the neglect of electrical job.

The All-India Railwaymen’s Federation, which has threatened an indefinite strike, has in its charter of demands pressed for better service conditions for air condition mechanics. They had no accommodation on trains and in stations, it said, and they had a grievance regarding their duty hours as well.

The railways have spent Rs. 8.63 crore on fire extinguishers during the 11 Plan period and the current 12 Plan period. The damage caused by fire in the past four years is close to Rs. 15 crore.

Poor maintenance could also be related to poor allocation and utilisation of safety funds that are allocated from resources generated internally by the railways. This year, they were over Rs. 4000 crore short of the budgeted revenue target.

Utilisation of funds during the past three years has hovered between 65 and 79 per cent of the budget estimates.

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