The recent accident in B1 coach of Hazur Saheb Nanded-Bangalore City Express, which caught fire on December 28, 2013, near Kothacheruvu, Anantapur district, killing 26 passengers, has raised serious questions linked to rail safety.
There were many unanswered questions: Why were the fire extinguishers kept outside the coach and not inside, why were there no hammers, and how do emergency windows open since people had to rush to the toilet to break open the window and escape. The question related to the absence of an emergency phone is yet to be answered.
Divisional Railway Manager, South Western Railways, Anil Kumar Agarwal says it is mandatory for every coach to have two fire extinguishers and two emergency windows. Hammers are another added feature.
New safety features
In the wake of increasing mishaps, the railways is now contemplating to add some new features to the trains, says Agarwal. “Work is on in this direction, but we have to ensure that the devices are fitted and installed in such a manner that people do not fiddle and misuse them. Many a time, there have been cases where items such as hammers are missing from trains, especially when they are most required.”
Praveen Pandey, Senior Divisional Operations Manager, SWR, says the Research and Development wing of railways in Lucknow is now working on the suggestion of introducing fire alarms in trains. “They are looking at how the alarms can be used to not only ring an alarm and switch on sprinklers but also stop the train. They want to ensure that the alarm is not too sensitive that it might detect smoke from outside affecting its utility value. Also, cigarette smoke should not ring the alarm bell.”
The sensors should have emergency brakes, because if one coach of a train moving at over 120 kmph catches fire, then in the next few seconds, the following eight coaches catch fire too. So designing and introducing a new feature needs a lot of detailed thinking, adds Pandey.
Another feature being studied is the use of toughened window glasses for AC coaches (just like in Volvo buses), instead of having just two emergency windows. Further, these windows should not have the present mechanism, where the grills need to be opened first before the glass is removed. The window glass should be designed in such a way that it can be broken by a strong kick.
The research team is also looking at the train design. Instead of two fire extinguishers placed outside the coach, there should be smaller ones fitted inside the coach near the Brake Chains.
Also on the agenda are additional railway police personnel in the train.
Two years back, on a trial basis, the railways had introduced sensors in Bhubaneshwar - New Delhi Rajadhani Express. But this was not implemented. Agarwal feels that fitting sensors and cameras in trains is a good idea but a costly affair.
According to him, only two or three will not do. At least, ten are required in each coach and they should be regularly monitored by some one in the train.
The railways is also now contemplating on how to increase the number of emergency phones in the train, and the number of people handling it. Presently the emergency phones are handled by the TT and the pilots. They are now contemplating whether such a phone can be installed in every coach provided that they are not misused.
Pandey points out that AC coaches in trains are always vulnerable because they are closed and have a lot of circuits and fuses when compared to non-AC coaches. In case of a small smoke or any discomfort, a person can immediately open the window of a non - AC coach, but that is not possible in AC coaches. So apart from the railways, it is also important for the people to be cautious and aware at all times.