TN Express blaze sparks off debate on city's rail fire safety

Jul 31, 2012, 07:16 IST | Vedika Chaubey

Twenty minutes was all it took for a blaze to turn a sleeper bogie of New Delhi-Chennai Tamil Nadu Express into a mass crematorium, incinerating at least 32 people inside.

While the gruesome episode has elicited reactions from all parts of the country, it has spurred Mumbaikars to question the preparedness of the railways to deal with incidents like this.

Tamil Nadu Express
Death on wheels: In one of India’s most horrific train tragedies, 32 people were killed when a second class coach of the Chennai-bound Tamil Nadu Express caught fire yesterday in Andhra Pradesh. Pic/AFP

About 72 lakh people travel by the city’s suburban train system alone every day.

When contacted, both Central and Western Railway officials asserted they have a foolproof system to deal with fire mishaps. But when we probed our sources in various departments, the answers weren’t very encouraging. “Yes, we have fire extinguishers in express trains and also locals. But not many of them work, as there is very little maintenance. Also, just ask the railway staff how many of them are equipped to use the equipment during emergencies,” said a senior official from Western Railway.

In long-distance trains the fire extinguishers are placed in pantry cars, air-conditioned coaches and also with the guard. However, such trains have 24 coaches and passengers are concerned whether these fire extinguishers would be able to reach them on time if there’s a blaze in one of the general bogies. Sudhir Raman, who is a regular traveller of the long-distance trains from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, said, “I have my doubts whether these railway staffers would be of any use during emergencies. They are not properly trained and don’t even know how to behave with passengers. They never respond to any of our queries and are of no help during travel.”

Skewed approach
“Are railways only concerned about passengers in AC coaches? What about the other commuters? And is there enough equipment on long-distance trains to provide for every bogie?” he asked.

As far as local trains go, there are six fire extinguishers at different places in every rake, another one with the guard, and one more in the motormen’s cabin.

Every day, 105 long-distance trains depart from Central Railway’s CST, Dadar and LTT stations and 80 others from Western Railway’s Mumbai Central and Bandra Terminus stations. In addition, CR runs 1,573 services every day — including the ones on Harbour line. On the other hand, WR has 1,250 services daily between Churchgate and Virar.

However, passenger associations are not happy with the railway administration’s arrangements. Anil Tiwari, member of Divisional Railway Users’ Consultative Committee, said, “The fire incident on Tamil Nadu Express may have been averted, if the railways had accepted my demands on time. I am asking railway officials in meetings to implement fire-safety provisions immediately in all trains and at every station.”

Spokespersons from both CR and WR said they have enough preparations to handle any such emergency. Also, their employees have sufficient training to operate the fire-fighting equipment.  

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