Union railway minister Mallikarjun Kharge’s interim railway budget speech last week stressed on fire and smoke detection systems inside trains after back-to-back burning disasters on board Nanded Express and Bandra Terminus-Dehradun Express, but for passengers boarding from Ranchi or Hatia stations, any day could be blaze day.
Where lip service to safety is given, fire extinguishers are present, but expiry dates may be over or they may be defunct. In most cases, the extinguisher will be missing.
D. Sarkar, on board Shatabdi Express (Ranchi-Howrah) on Monday, trashed the government’s seriousness on improving fire safety on trains.
“Most fire extinguishers, like in my air-conditioned coach C3, and adjoining C4 and C5, have expired. There is no smoke warning system. If a coach catches fire, getting roasted alive is easy to imagine,” Sarkar said from the train on Monday afternoon.
Only C6 coach had a fire extinguisher that could perhaps be relied upon to work. Last checked on June 4, 2013, it displayed an expiry date of June 3, 2014.
When contacted, Shatabdi Express pantry car assistant manager Shravan Pandey claimed they had fire extinguishers at every coach. “We frequently recharge them. Each fire extinguisher has month and year inspection tags. We regularly check each extinguisher,” he said.
A second look at the train’s pantry car revealed the absence of a fire extinguisher. “Humlog ko bhi dar lagta hai (we are scared too),” a staffer said, adding they had not been trained in firefighting. “There is one exit window in each coach instead of four emergency exits,” he also pointed out.
Ranchi-Patna Janshatabdi Express was also devoid of fire fighting equipment.
“In the AC coach, the portable fire extinguisher is not working. The pantry car has no firefighting system. All portable fire extinguishers require refilling but who is there to listen,” said Amitabh Lal, a passenger in C2.
At Ranchi-Baidyanathdham Express, bound for Deoghar, no coach had a fire extinguisher. Finally, it was noticed they were locked up in the guardroom. The mystery was cleared.
“We frequently travel by ordinary coach (non-AC). It’s packed with people and luggage. If a fire occurs, there is only one emergency window and god knows how we will ever find it in the stampede that is sure to be as much of a killer as the fire,” rued college-goer Ramesh Kumar, a passenger.
At Hatia Railway station, all the fire extinguishers inside Hatia-Puri Express had expired. No surprises here, too.
Divisional railway manager (DRM), Ranchi, Deepak Kashyap, however claimed they were doing everything they could. “We give counselling and training to our mechanical department staff responsible to maintain fire safety equipment,” he claimed.
On expired fire extinguishers, Kashyap trotted out a standard reply. “We are regularly trying to refill cylinders so that they can be promptly used to combat crisis,” he said.
“We have received a directive from Railway Board that there should be regular inspections in all the coaches by both mechanical and electrical engineers to ensure firefighting equipment are well-maintained,” he added.
Kashyap saved the best for the last: “Soon, LPG cylinders in our pantry cars will be replaced with microwave ovens. This will also make trains much safer.”
But an official, who did not want to be named, said safety of trains depended on group C and D staff who had their own limitations.
“They rue lack of funds that hinders them from replacing defunct fire extinguishers. Training is also irregular. Till a crisis occurs, no one is prepared for it or will be,” he said.
What will you do in case of fire on your train?