A four-alarm level fire safety warning, smoke-proof panels, fire study reports and related equipment... The Indian Railways has been talking big about fire safety and has implemented a few fire alarm ‘pilot projects’ in a handful of trains for study. In reality, however, when you step into any air-conditioned coach, it’s a fire trap and just a 750gram steel hammer is your safety equipment to break the windshield to escape.
The death of 23 passengers on board the Nanded Express’s air-conditioned coach on Saturday has again opened the debate as to how safe our trains are.
“The design of the standard air-conditioned coach on Indian Railways is not friendly and is actually a fire trap with very little space in the gangway and no space to run in case of an emergency. With a coach completely filled with passengers, the little space in the gangway is also occupied with luggage and belongings kept everywhere. There is little open space to flee,” said a retired railway official.
“It is true that our coaches are not friendly in such circumstances and that there is very little one can do in case a fire breaks out. There is not even basic equipment like fire extinguishers in all coaches. The only thing one can find is a hammer which one has to search for in an emergency.
The administration needs to learn something from the incident and implement practical measures,” says Shailesh Goyal, member of Zonal Railway Users Consultative Committee of Western Railway, the official passenger grievances body.
“There should be a safety kit in each coach of all kinds of trains. There are large number of plans on paper but nothing in place,” said Subhash Gupta a member of the Zonal Railway Users Consultative Committee for Central Railway.
A railway spokesperson denied that there were just hammers in the name of safety. “There are more fire safety provisions besides a hammer like an emergency window etc. There are regular checks of the electrical equipment and attendants to maintain it. A few new type of train coaches also have fire extinguishers,” he said.