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Fire on Mumbai-Dehradun Express: Emergency chain was not working

Passengers had pulled the chain within minutes of the train leaving Bandra; instead of fixing it, railway officials only jammed it temporarily; when fire broke out a few hours later in the same compartment, no one could pull the chain to stop the train

A major incident could have been averted, had the railway staff taken serious cognisance of a chain-pulling incident that happened minutes after the 19019 Mumbai-Dehradun Express departed from Bandra Terminus. Preliminary inquires revealed that the chain had been pulled just after the train left the terminus.

The fire started just after 2.19 am, when the train left Dahanu Road station, and raged through three sleeper coaches. Pic/Nimesh Dave
The fire started just after 2.19 am, when the train left Dahanu Road station, and raged through three sleeper coaches. Pic/Nimesh Dave

A senior official in the know told MiD DAY, “An incident of chain-pulling from the S2 coach was reported at 12.25 am, within 20 minutes after the train departed from Bandra Terminus. The train, by then, had reached Goregaon station, where it was attended to, as per the protocol, by railway staff.

Officials say the fire appears to have started from S3, as the fans, rods and other equipment in the coach were badly damaged
Officials say the fire appears to have started from S3, as the fans, rods and other equipment in the coach were badly damaged

There was an argument in coach S2 after the passenger had pulled the chain, and a commotion ensued. But, instead of fixing the rod that had popped out of the socket due to the chain-pulling, the staff just affixed it temporarily, so as to avoid any traffic delay.”

Couldn’t pull chain
The officer added, “The staff who attended the call at Goregaon had informed the control room to pass on the message to the staff at Borivli station to fix the problem in S2, but the same did not happen and the train headed towards Dahanu Road station, for its scheduled halt.”

 Fire on Mumbai-Dehradun Express

This turned out to have disastrous consequences. Moments after the train left Dahanu Road, around 2.20 am, people in S2 noticed smoke coming from the coaches and tried pulling the chain. Since officials hadn’t restored it to the original position, passengers were unable to pull the chain to stop the train.

Fire on Mumbai-Dehradun Express
The charred interiors of one of the coaches. Pics/Nimesh Dave

Because of the fire, chains in S3 and S4 were also not working. The train came to a halt only when travellers went to S5 and pulled the chain. Gateman Jawahar Singh, who was patrolling on gate number 60 between Dahanu Road and Gholwad stations, saw smoke coming out from the coach. He immediately informed the stationmaster of Gholwad station.

 Fire on Mumbai-Dehradun Express

“By the time, anyone could react on the gateman’s report, the coaches caught fire and started burning badly,” said a staff who was at the spot after the incident. The three coaches S2, S3 and S4 were badly damaged. Prima facie, officials say the fire appears to have started from S3, as the fans, rods and other equipment in the coach were badly damaged.

“Had the staff fixed the chain at Goregaon station after it had been pulled, passengers would have been able to pull it when the train caught fire and railway staff could have attended to the coach. The accident could’ve been avoided and many lives could have been saved,” revealed the railway staff member.

Not short circuit
Though the official railway announcement says nine passengers have died, the search is on for the eight other passengers, who are missing. “As a prima facie report, it doesn’t look like a short circuit. There might be a possibility that some passengers were carrying petrol or inflammable materials, and the fire started because somebody was smoking,” added the official.

Moreover, officially, railway has not given any reason for the mishap and the Commission of Railway Safety (CRS) is enquiring into the accident. “The CRS is investigating into the case and we expect a report in a month’s time. We, too, are trying to find out the reasons for the fire from our enquiries,” said the official. Every staff member, from the train driver to the railway police and guard, is being questioned.

“We also have information that at Dahanu, the station master had given the green signal to the train. The fire started within minutes of this. So, it’s surely not a short circuit,” the official said. After the fire on September 24, 2007 in Awadh Express at Baroda, this is the second case of a long-distance train catching fire.

List of deceased passengers
Out of the nine dead, five have been identified. They are:
Deepika Shah (65)
Surendra Shah (68)
Dev Shankar Upadhyay (48)
Nasirkhan Ahmedkhan Pathan (50)
Feroz Khan (38)

The names of the others are being ascertained. A forensics team has reached the site and will conduct DNA tests to identify the rest.

9
The death toll

8
Number of people missing

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