The fire that broke out in the pantry car of the 12435 Dibrugarh-New Delhi Rajdhani Express in the early hours of Tuesday once again poses a question mark on the seriousness of the railways towards safety of passengers. This is the fourth incident of fire in a passenger train this year as against five such incidents last year, including a major one in the Tamil Nadu Express on July 30, 2012, which left 32 passengers dead.
This is also not the first incident of fire in the most prestigious train in the country — Rajdhani Express. Notable incidents include the one that affected the Mumbai-Delhi Rajdhani Express in 2011 when three of its coaches and the pantry car were affected, though passengers had a miraculous escape.
In the same year, the Patna-Delhi Rajdhani Express witnessed a minor fire when all its passengers had a close shave.
In 2012, a general coach of the Coromandel Express caught fire which was extinguished immediately.
The incidents of fire in the Rajdhani Express are distressing as these coaches are supposed to match international standards. But, of late, the safety aspects have been compromised, particularly because of the financial crunch, which has forced railways to cut their expenses under the safety head.
In the present case, all the 15 members of the pantry car jumped out of the train in the nick of time, underscoring the threat the working conditions pose to them. Employees’ federations have time and again accused the authorities of failing in their duties of proper maintenance of coaches, pantry cars and engines.
Railway employees have also been found guilty in the incidents of fire that have been established by various enquiries. Three of them were held responsible in 2010, 11 in 2011 and eight in 2012.
Since 2010, as many as 83 incidents of fire have been reported with 39 being in trains while the other 44 were at railway yards.
As many as 1.49 lakh safety-related posts are lying vacant for years together with no attempt being made to fill them. One reason, of course, is want of funds, but that only compromises the safety of passengers.
The attempt of the railways so far has been limited to developing an automatic fire and smoke detection system which is suitable only for controlled environment such as air conditioned coaches. A trial is underway in the Bhubaneswar-Delhi Rajdhani Express.
Highly placed officials pointed out that equipment used in the western countries was unlikely to succeed in India not only because of the climatic conditions but also that non-A/C general coaches were in greater number.