Mixed Bag

Hundreds of passengers on the Rajdhani Express had a narrow escape on Tuesday afternoon when fire broke out in the luggage rake, packed with cigarettes and inflammable goods.

The all-clear whistle had blown for the train to roll out at 4.48pm when smoke started billowing out of the SLR rake, triggering panic among passengers and relatives who had come to see them off. A disaster was narrowly averted, thanks to the alertness of a GRP officer and because the railways threw everything it had into the firefight, but it exposed the laxness in security and surveillance at one of the busiest stations in the country.

"Had the train started, the wind would have fanned flames into passenger coaches and engulfed the entire train in no time," said a railway official.

The train was on platform 9. Assistant sub-inspector Satyanarayan Yash, who was running last minute checks, spotted the first wisps of smoke just when the motorman blew the first whistle. "There was hardly any time. The train was to leave in two minutes. I ran to the engine and asked the motorman to stop the train," said Yash. The motorman informed the control room and within a minute or two every railway employee in the vicinity and every equipment had been marshaled for the firefight.

Announcements were made on the public address system, asking passengers not to panic. Four fire-tenders arrived but could not be put to use because the access paths created during British times specifically for such an eventuality have been barricaded off. Smaller fire tenders were brought it and they joined the fight at 5.10pm.

Motormen managed to isolate the luggage van from the generator van and pantry car. After 30 minutes of intense firefighting, the flames were extinguished. Firemen were surprised to see the luggage-car stacked with inflammable materials like cigarettes, electrical and circuit boards and plastics.

Armyman Debobrata Ghosh, who was in B1, closest to the fire, said: "At 4.49pm, the power suddenly went off. I came out of the compartment and into an unbearable smoke."

Passengers` relatives came rushing back to the station. Khaled Khan, a passenger on coach A5, refused to take the journey and returned home. "My family is worried. Though I have some important appointments in Delhi, my relatives don`t want me to go." The train left at 6.40pm with a new luggage van.

Divisional fire officer Samir Chowdhury said: "The fire could be from a spark, either from a cigarette or a short-circuit. The inflammable material only helped it to spread faster." DRM Anirban Dutta said the management of the luggage van had been outsourced.

The fire brigade said the cause of the fire can be determined only through forensic tests. Since the railways does not have this facility, officials will seek assistance from Kolkata police and Howrah city police.

Source: Times of India

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