Consumer activists, key office bearers of Railway Mazdoor Union and top railway officials in Warangal pointed fingers at the Indian Railway Board for not installing fire safety mechanism in the ill-fated Tamil Nadu Express’ S-11 coach, where three Chennai-bound passengers from Warangal were charred to death.
The Railway officials have confirmed deaths of techies M. Raju, M. Avinash and D. Shalini in the train fire tragedy.
According to a senior railway official at Kazipet responsible for fire safety mechanism in long distance trains, all general and 3-tier sleeper coaches are not equipped with fire extinguishers as per prevailing policy of the railway department.
“In long distance express trains, fire extinguishers are only kept in AC coaches. There is also a fire extinguisher available with the train guard and in the pantry car, where food is cooked,” said a railway official, on condition of anonymity.
The official disclosed that providing fire extinguisher does not guarantee safety for passengers from fire mishap as the Railways would need additional staff to operate them when need arises.
Their absence, in other words, means that lives of middle class passengers travelling in 3-tier sleeper coaches in all the 60+60 long distance express trains passing through Kazipet and Warangal railway junctions respectively on different days of the week would have only to depend upon emergency windows for exit.
Both Kazipet and Warangal railway junctions form an important link connecting the south to north India. For instance, there are 25 Delhi-bound trains and 24 Chennai-bound trains having halts in either of the two stations on different days of the week.
There is further irony. With railways being a Central subject and governed under Railway Act, 1890 (amended in 1989), consumer activists lament that the state enacted AP Fire Service Act, 1999, does not have any say over fire safety standards in railways. “There is no provision in the outdated Railway Act, 1890, making installation of fire safety mechanism mandatory in all coaches of long distance trains. It is advisable for middle class passengers travelling in three tier sleeper coaches to carry their own fire extinguishers,” said Mr Sambaraju Chakrapani, president of Warangal Consumer Council, in a sarcastic tone.
Railway Mazdoor Union leaders like B Ramanatham, secretary, engineering branch at Kazipet junction, too identified problems like non- use of fire resistant paints in coaches and not giving the mandatory eight hour ‘rest period’ for long distance trains after it reaches its final destination(DC).