Mumbai: The Railway Protection Force (RPF) is training four Labrador pups to sniff out inflammable substances hidden in passengers’ luggage, in efforts aimed at averting fires on long-distance trains.
Twenty-six people were killed in a blaze in an air-conditioned coach of Bangalore-Nanded Express on December 28 last year. On January 8, nine people were charred to death when a fire broke out in three coaches of Mumbai-Dehradun Express near Dahanu Road. The two incidents are still under investigation, but railway authorities have not ruled out negligent behaviour by passengers.
The RPF’s Mumbai division has a total of 30 sniffer dogs at its kennels in Matunga and Kalyan, but most of them are trained in detecting only explosives. While they are very efficient in their primary job, they are unable to detect inflammable substances such as alcohol and motor fuels.
This has left the RPF with a peculiar problem of having a well-staffed dog squad which cannot be employed to prevent a major disaster on long-haul passenger trains.
The four Labradors, acquired recently, will be specifically trained to tackle the problem. The canines, only three months old, have been already sent to the Border Security Force’s National Training Centre for Dogs in Tekhanpur near Gwalior. They will be brought back to Mumbai for police work by year-end.
“We had earlier added two sniffer dogs to our squad, but they were not very effective in identifying inflammable materials. As preventing fires on trains is a critical issue, we are teaching four young Labradors to detect alcohol, kerosene and petrol, among other substances,” said A P Singh, RPF inspector general, Central Railway.
Another officer said that the Labradors had already completed a three-week preliminary programme and would now be enrolled for a 36-week ‘tracker dog training course’. “They will be inducted into our dog squad by the year-end,” he said.
ACentral Railway official said that availability of alcohol near stations in Mumbai and other places was encouraging passengers to carry booze for their train journey. “It’s difficult to scan every bag. Deployment of more sniffer dogs could help us keep alcohol and other fire-causing substances off trains,” the official said.
A panel appointed by the Union ministry of home affairs to examine the deployment of more sniffer dogs at railway stations had suggested using one canine for inspections of at least eight trains.
Apart from using canines, railway authorities are also installing new baggage screening systems. A Rs 27-crore project to install such hi-tech devices at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) is already under way.