Move to more high-tech coaches in the pipeline
The Indian Railways has significantly reduced fire using retardant material in passenger coaches, but fires still account for two per cent of loss of life due to accidents.
“Limiting the spread of fire in trains at high speed is difficult, since air acts as a catalyst for fire. And there is no material that is fire-proof. We can only use ‘fire-retardant’ material to prevent fire from spreading or causing damage,” a Railway official said.
The Railways keeps dry powder type portable fire extinguishers in locos, guard vans, pantry cars, and air-conditioned coaches, to be used by guards and railway staff. But these are usually not of much help. The local administration and fire brigade have to intervene.
Now, the Railways is trying to adopt smoke alarm detection systems on a pilot basis. Such an alarm has already been installed on the Bhubaneswar Rajdhani Express, and may be more widely adopted depending on its effectiveness.
However, adoption of fire-proof coaches and use of fire-retardant coach furnishing material have helped Railways achieve a sharp reduction in accidents since 2006-07. The material resists fast spreading of flame, and limits the toxicity index.
Now, another move will increase the fire resistance of coaches. The Railways has decided to move over to production of high-tech LHB (Linke Holfmann Bush, a part of Alstom) coaches that were initially used in Rajdhani, Shatabdi Express and some AC coaches.
“While the furnishing material in LHB coaches is almost the same as other coaches, a key differentiator will be sliding doors in the vestibule that separate two coaches. The material used there will prevent the fire from spreading to nearby coaches,” a Railway source said.