With the onset of summer, Indian Railways has undertaken an elaborate exercise of reviewing the materials used in AC and non-AC coaches including foam, the most inflammable substance, used as cushioning material in seats and berths.
The aim is to provide safety with due consideration to comforts for passengers, said a senior Railway Ministry official.
There were six fire incidents in 2018-19, which increased to eight in 2019-20. However, though it came down to three in 2020-21, the railways witnessed four such fire incidents in the 2021-22 till 8 March.
It has been observed in the recent past that within minutes of catching fire, the whole coach got burnt. Such incidents posed a huge risk for passengers onboard.
The problem of coach fire is more serious in case where coaches cannot be separated at site and this can increase the extent of damage considerably.
It is, therefore, highly essential to provide an effective fire extinguishing system in each coach with a coach specific alarm, said the official.
In majority cases, the fire could not be controlled leading to complete burning of coaches within 10-15 minutes of occurrence. Fumes generated during such fire incidents have been reported to be highly suffocating and toxic, posing risk to passengers onboard.
Urgent action is therefore, required to be taken not only in terms of improving our material standards but also in ensuring adherence to specified standards by creating a robust system for eliminating possibility of inferior quality and non-conforming material.
The railways is in the process of comprehensive review of design, layout and hazardous level of materials used in coaches.
Steps are being initiated for strengthening fire safety measures to ensure safe journey for passengers as there is an urgent need to adopt best practices suitable for Indian conditions to guarantee safety, said the official.
The railways has been examining various options for adopting suitable standards taking a holistic view of the best practices to save passengers while facilitating swift evacuation in case of fire.
The official further said quality of materials being procured and supplied are strictly as per specifications.
Arun Kumar Das is a senior journalist covering railways. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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