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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fire in Tamilnadu Express

Nothing is worse for a rail fan than the news of a railway accident, particular when innocent lives are lost. And so was the news of S-11 coach of 12622 Tamilnadu Express from New Delhi to Chennai burnt by fire yesterday early morning, around 4:30 AM. Since the TN enjoys a non-stop run from Vijaywada to Chennai, there was no stop for the next three hours (till the train reached Chennai), and hence everyone must have been fast asleep, when the fire broke out.

Here are some links to the news reports:

Times of India
Indian Express
The Hindustan Times

Different accounts report the number of deaths to be between 30 and 47.

The usual things have been done. Everyone has paid condolences. Railways have announced financial compensation. (They can at least change the vocabulary. It seems that they are valuing a life at 5 lakhs. Instead, they can say something to the effect that they are providing financial support to the next of kin.) Everyone will be making an air dash to see the burnt coach, as if it has become a museum piece. An inquiry has been commissioned. And, by tomorrow, the traffic will be normal on the busy route. Media will also forget that yet another accident had happened.

Hints are being given out that it was either an electric short circuit, or a sabotage. It is being suggested that some Railway officials heard a loud bang (which apparently supports the sabotage theory), though some survivors from the coach and passengers in nearby coaches seemed to have heard nothing of the sort. Some others are talking about sound of crackers.

How does it matter whether it was a short-circuit or a sabotage. The important question is why did it kill so many. And that question, I am not seeing debated in the media, but only on the railfan website, It is not being debated, because it brings forth uncomfortable questions for the Railways to answer.

Shouldn't there be electrical safety devices which should detect a short-circuit and break the circuit before a fire gets ignited.

Shouldn't there be some emergency light system in the coach, when there is an electric failure, so that there can be at least a bit of light for people to plan escape.

It has been pointed out that the emergency window exits remained intact in the burnt coach. Why could people not open that. How do we make it more user friendly, so that they can actually be used in an emergency like this one.

Why couldn't people escape to the neighbouring coach. The train has a vestibuled rake. Was it because, it was full of trash. We notice in many trains that the pantry staff keeps trash in the vestibule area. Was the passage closed for the night. What is Railways going to do to make sure that vestibules provide unhindered passage in such emergencies.

Was the coach over-crowded, as is the norm these days. Many unauthorized passengers sleeping in the passage, again, hindering the exit path. Can something be done to make sure that the passage area in the coach is free of any encroachment, particularly in the night.

Aren't the coaches and the upholstery supposedly made of materials which are fire retardant. Then why did the fire spread so quickly, that people did not have time to escape. Have Railways done any testing of these materials.

Who and what caused fire is certainly important, but the more important issue is whether the loss of life was avoidable in such an accident.

My prayers are with the family and friends of those who lost their lives, not because of a fire, but because the fire spread quickly, and the coach design and other practices did not allow a quick exit.


Ankur Kulkarni said...

Very well written. All these things cost money. Our railways are not for safe or comfortable travel. The deal is that they will let you travel at a very low price, but with little or no assurance of safety or even decency. Your chai cups will strew all along pristine untouched country sides, which cows will eat and die of poisoning. You will pay next to nothing for a seat, but your and your co-passenger's faeces will be disposed by letting it fly out of the train and splattered all over the country. What madness have we come to in the name of low price and affordability?! And if Kakodkar report is true, there has been a slow and uniform decay of railway tracks and undercarriages all over the country. Which means they will all reach failure loads around the same time and this wonderful marvel that we have built will collapse.

Prashant said...

It is really bad when loss of innocent lives occurs for reasons which could have been avoided with a little bit of care and foresight.

“If you do not increase the fares, you are going to turn the railway coaches into coffins,” the former railroad minister, Dinesh Trivedi, warned after he was asked to resign this year, after attempting to raise fares.

CogMind said...

Suggestion to add fire saftey alarms in train that makes a very loud noise in compartment and also rings loud bell in the driver and gaurd's place along with its location. In countries like UK, such systems fixed in houses alert the fire station automatically.

Vikram said...

Can the Railways not be sued for gross negligence and loss of life ? Remember, lawsuits and mobilization got safety mechanisms into American cars.