People travelling in the Mumbai-Dehradun Express had shut the windows to keep themselves warm; but when their coaches caught fire, smoke quickly spread throughout the bogie, since there was no vent for it
Passengers in the Mumbai-Dehradun Express (19019) would never have thought that they would have to pay with their lives for downing had downed their windows. In the wee hours of yesterday, when the train caught fire, all windows had been shut to keep out the chill. So smoke engulfed the coaches as there was no opening to let it out.
Closed windows in the coaches led to the smoke spreading fast inside the train. Pic/Nimesh Dave
This late-night express train made its last halt at Dahanu Road, now the last extended suburban station for locals, at 2.16 am. Three minutes later, the train started moving towards Gholwad station, which is the last railway station before the train enters Gujarat. Just one-and-half km before Gholwad, and within five minutes of the train’s departure time from Dahanu Road, smoke started emitting.
The site where the train caught fire is eight km from Dahanu Road. It was gateman Jawahar Singh, who was standing on level-crossing number 60, who first saw the smoke billowing out of the train. Sources said he immediately informed stationmaster Sriram Prasad at Gholwad station about this. In the next two minutes, he called again to inform that the coaches had caught fire, even as the train was zipping ahead.
According to railway officials, “The train might have been travelling at a speed of 100 kmph or so. This could have fanned the fire.” Although railway officials didn’t confirm the source of the fire, it is said that coach S3 seemed to be the one where the fire started. “As per our observations, S3 was most affected while the north-end of S4 was least affected by the fire. It will be difficult to tell the prima facie cause, but the Commission of Railway Safety will be inquiring into the incident,” said Hemant Kumar, general manager, Western Railway, who was present at the site.
Sources described to MiD DAY that beginning from S3, the flames spread partly to S4 and towards coaches S1 and S2 at the rear. Passengers began running helter-skelter. Meanwhile, a few of them had pulled the emergency chain to alert the loco pilot Rajendra Lakde, assistant loco pilot Raviranjan Roy and guard Manohar Patange.
Officials, however, reported that the coaches weren’t crowded in all, there were 84 people in the four coaches (S4, S3, S2 and S1). Sadly, five passengers died due to suffocation and four were charred to death.By now, the stationmaster had contacted the fire brigade, local police station and even local residents.
These people, including railway officials, ran with buckets of water, while the stationmaster’s office ran with six fire extinguishers. However, the fire brigade that came around 3.30 am was initially unsuccessful in going to the spot. Meanwhile, the fire engines coming from Dahanu and nearby areas were struggling to find a proper entrance to approach the site where the train was burning. The locals then guided them to a kuchha road amidst dense shrubs and bushes.
Officials added that by 4.15 am or so, they finally managed to douse the flames from all three coaches, but the train was still burning hot. Around the same time, railway officials were in the process of separating the affected coaches from the safe ones. Finally, the fire cooled off by 5.10 am. By then, the passengers had taken out five people who had apparently died from suffocation, while the four charred bodies were removed after the train cooled down. Gradually the engine, along with the first six coaches, was detached and sent towards Valsad at 8.10 am, where four more coaches were added.
Two coaches were added at Surat, while the existing two coaches separated from the rear end were also attached. All other passengers were accommodated in these coaches. In all, 45 passengers discontinued their journey, 8 passengers are missing and 9 passengers died.
Theories behind fire
Officials believe that it is quite likely that there could be something inflammable inside the coach or that someone might have been smoking a cigarette or beedi. Locals claimed that some passengers were reportedly smoking a cigarette. Others said there could be inflammable items like oil or fuel, which could have led to the fire. Officials ruled out a short circuit.