Thanks to an unlikely hero, not a single passenger was injured as three bogies of the Mumbai-Delhi Rajdhani were reduced to cinders in a fire that started early Monday morning when passengers were fast asleep and the train speeding through western Madhya Pradesh.
Passengers said pantry car in-charge Pawan Kumar`s quick response in stopping the train around 2.10am and urging sleepy passengers to get off, not only saved the lives of about 150 people in the affected 3-tier AC coaches but also helped contain the fire.
“Please help the reporters congratulate the most important man,” senior citizen Bahadur Mistri was heard telling co-travellers as they hugged and kissed their relatives when the train reached New Delhi station at 3.20pm. “He is the pantry car in-charge who knew quite a bit about the train AC system. His name is Pawan Kumar.”
Kumar was sleeping in the pantry car from where the fire started. “I got up and found smoke everywhere. The first thing I did was to pull the chain. I shouted to my boys to get going and wake up the passengers. We asked everyone to file out. I was screaming — bahar niklo, sab chhod ke bahar niklo (run out, leave everything and run out),” said Kumar, an employee of RaiIway caterers, IRCTC.
Kumar said after stopping the train, he ran towards coach B7 as the wind was moving in that direction before collecting a fire extinguishers and running back into the pantry to fight the blaze. “Everyone pitched in,“ he added.
Said Satyendra Singh, who was travelling in coach B7, “The shouting worked. I still do not know how we managed it, but by 2.20am all passengers in the coach were outside. The pantry car and the B7 coach were gutted within the next half hour, the B6 coach followed suit before the fire brigade arrived.”
“Pawan Kumar took me out and helped me get down. Everything my group was carrying — mobiles, digital cameras and even currency notes — were all burnded,“ said Dinoo Dalal, part of the 35-member group heading to Himachal Pradesh.
The fire started when the train was between Vikramgarh Alot and Thuriya stations located in the Kota-Ratlam section of the West Central Railway. The train left Mumbai Central at 4.40pm on Sunday and was scheduled to reach Delhi at 8.45am. There were around 1,061 people on board.
“The fire started from the pantry car which was totally ravaged,” said Anil Saxena, Northern Railways spokesman. “Three coaches of the train were detached and passengers of the affected bogies shifted out. There was no injury, all passengers are safe.”
P Mathur, chief PRO, West Central Railway, told TOI from Jabalpur, “It has not been established that the fire started in the pantry car. The commissioner of railway safety, central circle, Chetan Bakshi, will carry out the enquiry.”
Railways said passengers of the coaches B6 and B7 will get Rs 5,000 as ex-gratia relief.
The Railways arranged for breakfast for the passengers at Kota and lunch was picked up from Mathura. “Upon arriving at Delhi, we offered an ex-gratia help of Rs 5,000 to the passengers of all the three bogies —B5, B6 and B7. A couple of our own men burnt their hands trying to decouple the coaches,“ said spokesman Saxena.
Passenger Satyendra Singh said railway engineers and gangmen from Thuriya helped in decoupling the three coaches but B5 was partially damaged too. “Coach B5 too was finally decoupled by two diesel engines arriving from both sides. By 4am, the fire was under control. The villagers gave us water, fed us and looked after us till the train left for Kota at 8.21am,“ he said.
“The railways did everything they could do. There might have been some mistake on their part that led to the fire in the first place and loss of my entire luggage. But I am happy to be with my mother. Had it not been for Kumar and the other railway staffers, I would not be hugging her now,“ said Nidhi Bajaj, a mass communication student living in Uttam Nagar, west Delhi.
A woman railway official who was on board the train told TOI: “The place the train was halted was like a jungle and the staff started moving people out with only necessary baggage. It was a full moon night so it helped us see well. The flames were spreading but the message had already reached the railway authorities. I was very impressed that they moved so fast. There was no panic and people were calmly helping each other.”