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TN Express fire: Probe throw ups volley of questions

August 02, 2012 19:57 IST
Even as preliminary investigations by forensic experts and the railway police suggest that the fire accident aboard the Chennai-bound Tamil Nadu Express on Monday was caused by the electric short circuit, the circumstances which led to the accident and heavy loss of life continues to be wrapped in the mystery.

The South Central Railway officials were keeping mum citing the statutory investigations by commissioner of railway safety D K Singh, which started on Thursday. But the preliminary probe by the railway police has indicated that loopholes in the railway safety and security system also contributed significantly to the horrendous tragedy in the wee hours of Monday.

The probe has also raised questions about the exact toll in the accident. Even after an official statement issued late on Monday evening put the final toll at 32, the local authorities were still talking of 28 deaths and six people being unaccounted for. There was also confusion about the exact number of people travelling in the coach, which had the capacity of 72 passengers. But now the estimates wary between 81 and 85.

The most curious question, which has emerged from the railway police, inquiry was how the fire spread through the coach within two to four minutes. They point out that the Tamil Nadu Express passed between the platforms no 2 and 3 at 4.18 am.

As per the set procedure the deputy superintendent and another employee should have monitored each and every passing compartment of the train, which did not have a halt at Nellore and waved the green flag. The Nellore station records show that it was done as per the routine.

The investigators were now wondering when the gateman at Vaidayapalem gate, 2 km after the Nellore station noticed the flames in S 11 at 4:20 am, why the staff at the station did not see any thing amiss. And how the fire broke out and flames spread in just two minutes and the entire coach was gutted.

The theory that may be the presence of some inflammable material in the coach could have contributed to the fast spread of fire has already been ruled out by the experts of Andhra Pradesh Forensic Science Laboratory.

The railway police inquiry has also found irregularities on part of the three railway protection police personnel present in the train. While they should have been patrolling the compartments, all of them were found sitting in one compartment when the fire broke out.

During the preliminary investigations two human hands were found in the toilets on the side of berth No 72 from where the fire believed to have started. The presence of the one burnt hand in each of the toilet has left the investigators confused. They believe that there were two passengers in the toilets when fire broke out and they were burnt alive that their bodies turned in to ashes and they were washed away through the toilet hole when the fire engines poured water to put out the fire.

Not only this, the report also talks of finding different body parts belonging to different people and they were all put together by the search teams initially. The investigators concluded that if all these parts were counted separately, the toll could go up by another nine.

According to the latest official count, 47 people came out of the train either safely or injured. 31 of them were admitted to different hospitals in Nellore. So far, seven have been discharged and 24 were being treated, nine of them were in serious conditions.

Of the dead, 19 have been identified and handed over to their families. The officials say that they will be able to give a final figure of the missing people if any only after they identify all the bodies with the help of DNA profiling and hand them over to their families.



Mohammed Siddique