Accident exposes safety lacunae in trains

New Delhi: The major fire in the Bangalore-Nanded express suspected to be caused by a suspected AC short circuit highlighted the inability of cash-strapped railways to run all its trains with fire-resistant LHB coaches.

“Today we are using LHB coaches in elite trains such as Rajdhani and Shatabdi,” said an official, adding that railways has failed to step up production of German technology-based LHB coaches, which have safety system that could save lives in such emergency situations.

The AC 3-tier coach B-1, fourth from the engine, which had 67 passengers on board, caught fire around 3.45 am when most of the passengers and support staff were fast asleep.

Sources said that soon after driver noticed the fire, he stopped the train that helped in detaching ill-fated coach and preventing the fire from spreading to other coaches.

The preliminary inquiry found that electric short circuit near AC unit was the cause of the fire, and sensing this Member (Electrical) Kul Bhusan was rushed to the spot.

Railway minister Mallikarjun Kharge, who visited the site, described the incident as “tragic and most unfortunate”.

Kharge also indicated that the blaze was caused by an electricity fault. The minister ordered an inquiry by the Commissioner of Railway Safety. Prime Minister Manmohan Sigh expressed “shock and grief at the loss of life in the train accident in Andhra Pradesh”.

The coach caught fire as it travelled from Bangalore to Nanded, 300 from Hyderabad. An official said that casualty is high as the exit doors were locked while passengers were sleeping. Also the windows of the AC coach were covered with bars, making escape all but impossible.

The toilet windows are the only ones that have no bars and the spaces and berths are narrow.

The tragedy is second train accident in the district. In March last year, 25 passengers were killed, near Penukonda in the district when the Bangalore-bound Hampi Express rammed into a stationary goods train.