The fire that broke out on the Bandra Terminus-Dehra Dun train on Wednesday spread through three coaches in less than five minutes. What makes it scary for the 2.4 crore people who use trains everyday is that efforts to make the general class sleeper coaches of trains fire-safe have failed. General sleeper coaches account for at least 60% of all trains.
The railway’s apex technical authority – Research Design Standards Organisation (RDSO) has not found any fire- detecting alarm system that can be installed in these coaches. At an international seminar organised by RDSO last year to get experts to come up with an alarm system for such coaches proved futile.
The reason for this was that the alarms, when installed in general sleeper coaches, gave out false warnings by picking up traces of smoke coming through the train window. this was not the case in air-conditioned coaches where windows were shut. RDSO director-general V Ramachandran admitted to dna that the fire alaram project in non-AC coaches has been a failure. ”We are exploring options. We do not want these alarms to give false warnings, causing people to panic and jump off trains,” said Ramachandran.
Another plan to increase the fire-resistant index — globally termed as ‘oxygen index’ — of some of the material used in making of the train interiors. “We haven’t been able to zero in on any manufacturer who could come up with such material,” said a RDSO official.
Ramachandran said, “Specifications for material made by RDSO are rigid. But we have no control if the purchaser [railways] buys something of a lower specification,” he said.
The railways are now banking on an under-construction fire testing laboratory on RDSO’s Lucknow campus to ensure that such fire incidents are mitigated. It is slated to come up in September this year. “The first such lab in the railways will help test material used in train interiors,” said Ramachandran, adding that it is important that train travellers avoid carrying inflammable items in trains.