Madurai train fire preventable: Rlys has no protocol to inspect tourist coaches

IRCTC and Southern Railways spokespersons have said railways facilitate travel by renting coaches and in this case no charges were collected to offer food or other services.

Published: 28th August 2023 07:38 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th August 2023 01:06 PM   |  A+A-

Forensic experts examine coach where fire broke out on Sunday | Express

Express News Service

CHENNAI: The fire accident in an IRCTC tourist coach stationed at the Madurai railway yard, which claimed nine lives on Saturday, has turned the limelight on the lack of regulation of coaches hired for pilgrimage or tours. In fact, there is no protocol in place to inspect such coaches during detachment and attachment at en-route stations. 

While IRCTC’s pilgrimage train or Bharat Gaurav train has a pantry car to cater to the passengers, no such facility is available for passengers hiring one or two coaches for extended trips of 10 to 15 days.

Sources in the travel industry said it is common for travel operators in most north Indian states to use LPG cylinders for cooking inside the coach, at platforms or along the tracks.

“This approach stemmed from the perception that hired IRCTC coaches were deemed “insignificant” by the zonal railways, leading to them receiving minimal attention from the Railway Protection Force, safety personnel, and others,” said an operator. 

IRCTC and Southern Railways spokespersons have said railways facilitate travel by renting coaches and in this case no charges were collected to offer food or other services. They added that carrying inflammables on train journeys is banned and punishable. However, there has been no accountability at any level to monitor safety aspects of the coach since the journey began on August 17.  

“Unlike passenger trains, hired coaches of IRCTC are not given much importance. Had the safety staff, RPF or other employees, inspected the coach at any of the seven stations it passed through, usage of LPG cylinders would have been prevented,” said R Pandiaraja, a member of the zonal rail users consultative committee, SR. 

'Sans vigilance, privatisation might lead to more deaths' 

Pandiaraja also wondered why the railways or IRCTC had not deployed staff on the coach to ensure all the rules are complied with by the passengers. "Railways should also fix smoke detectors on all coaches," he added.

Dakshin Railway Employees Union (DREU) zonal joint secretary R Sankara Narayanan said the deaths were preventable and said the over 10,000 unfilled vacancies in RPF and Travelling Ticket Examiners was affecting safety. The coach, with 64 passengers, started its journey from Lucknow, connected to the rear of various express trains that halted at Vijayawada, Renigunta, Mysuru, Bengaluru, Tirunelveli, Nagercoil, and Madurai where the fire broke out.

A Giri, a member of divisional rail users consultative committee, Tiruchy said, the accident had exposed the railways inexperience in handling private parties while renting coaches. "When the entire infrastructure belongs to Indian railways how can they put the blame on travel operator's negligence? If the fire broke during travel there would have been chance of greater disaster. It's a failure of the railways," he said.  Southern Railway Mazdoor Union (SRMU) president CA Raja Sridhar said that without better vigilance, the privatisation efforts in railways might lead to more casualties.

However, Padmini Narayanan, managing director, Akshaya India Tours in Chennai said that the tour operators should provide food in coordination with local caterers in the absence of a pantry car. "These days, requests for food can be placed through mobile phones. Upon received food at stations, the operator can make the payment," she said.

Pandiaraja said a single coach for extended trips should only be provided if the operator gives detailed information about food arrangements for the travellers.

A railway official said, "The safety commissioner's inquiry is underway at Madurai. Decision on policy level changes to prevent any such incident in future will be taken based on his recommendation,"

(With inputs from Jeyalakshmi Ramanujam @ Madurai)

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