Firefight: Rlys to set up special fund for safety upgrade

Written by Rajat Arora | New Delhi | Updated: Jan 9 2014, 08:35am hrs
After two consecutive railway fire incidents within 15 days, the railway board is looking to set up a special safety fund to upgrade fire preventive measures in all its trains. The railways is planning to make modifications in fuse distribution boxes and ventilators of non-air conditioned coaches and increasing the number of fire extinguishers in the coaches.

The railways is also planning to adopt Australian smoke detectors and fire alarms to make the coaches safer. We are currently doing the test run of the Australian fire alarm in Jammu Rajdhani. If successful, well equip all our trains with the same technology, a railway board official said.

In an early morning incident on Wednesday, nine people were charred to death when three coaches of the Bandra-Dehradun Express caught fire.

The railways is also planning to upgrade its safety certification. The gas-based fire equipment are being certified by the authorised agencies of oil companies. Well also train our on board staff on preliminary fire fighting, rescuing and operation of fire extinguishers, the official added.

Also, creation of a fire stimulation software facility at RDO in Lucknow is under works. There is also a proposal of setting up of a fire-test lab at RDSO. Theres a need for development of stronger and more fire worthy material for roof in coaches. We also need fire-retardant material as per international norms to be used for coach furnishing material, a railway board official said.

Last month, a fire killed 26 passengers in an Andhra Pradesh train even as scores scores managed to escape by smashing windows.

The dearth of funds due to poor financial health has made it difficult to make all such modifications.

Theres a need for reintroduction of a non-lapsable railway safety fund (RSF). The previous RSF with a corpus of R17,000 crore was started by the NDA government in 2002-03 by the then railway minister, Nitish Kumar, which lapsed on April 1, 2008, the official added.

After the Centre infused R17,000 crore for safety upgrade, the railways overachieved its committed target of reducing frequency of consequential accidents from 0.44 to 0.17 accidents per million train kms.

Well also write to the finance ministry to waive off the dividend we pay on the gross budgetary support. Every year, we pay dividend of around R6,000 crore, so, if that amount is waived off for five year, well get around R30,000 crore in that fund, the officer said.

The CAG audit report submitted in Parliament in May studied the implementation of the policy with respect to safety works between 2006-07 and 2010-2011.

During the period, the railway department not only made less budgetary allotment from the funds available with the RSF, but also surrendered a major part of it that was allotted in the Budget.