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Thursday, January 09, 2014

Safety tips for Indian railway passengers

There’ve been too many railway accidents in past few weeks involving fire. The Nanded express fire near Puttaparthi, AP killing 29 people, Dehradun express killing 9 people, fire in Delhi-Lukhnow Shatabdi (no casualties) and a fire doused off using tea and water to name a few. Unlike airlines, there’re no safety demonstrations or briefings in Indian railways. People are untrained and unprepared for an emergency evacuation. More deaths happen because of stampede during exit or due to suffocation.

While the right solution is for Railways to adapt proper maintenance and safety measures on its trains, as an individual passenger there're few things we can do to increase our chances of survival in case of fire.

From my experience and observations, I’ve compiled a list of precautions, preparations and procedures for passengers traveling in Indian railways. Go through these and it might help save a life. If you have any suggestions, pls do comment.

Being prepared
·         If you’re traveling in an AC coach, carry a small hammer or strong object which can be used to break open the window glass in case of emergency.
·         Make mental note of the door closest to you and the emergency window and the chain which can be pulled to stop the train.
·         Carry a small towel and a small bottle of water. When oxygen levels go low, you can wet the towel and tie it around your face, to avoid instant suffocation.
·         If you’re carrying too much luggage, you may have to abandon it during evacuation. Keep extremely important stuffs (passports, jewelry, cash etc) in a separate pouch which you can grab and run
·         Learn about basics of firefighting- lots of materials are available on internet. How to use a fire extinguisher, what kind of extinguisher to be used on what kind of fire, Dos and Don’ts etc can be learnt using online materials and can save lives
·         Some dress materials aid in fire, while others are fire retardant. I haven’t done much study on this, but if you can carry a jacket which is fire retardant in nature, it will reduce fire related injury to your body.
·         Keep your loved ones informed of your coach and seat. If your coach is not the one affected by fire, they won’t have to panic unnecessarily
·         Carry a swimmers goggle. In case of fire, you can put it on- prevents/delays gas from irritating your eyes and hampering visibility. You can look around for longer time. Else smoke will burn your eyes and you'll be partially blind, not knowing which direction to go. Swimmers goggles can be bought at any store that sells sports goods, for INR 150 onwards.

Being alert
·         If any passengers are smoking in the train or carrying inflammable objects, bring it to the attention of TTE or team up with other passengers and warn them not to smoke or not to carry such materials
·         Once in a while go for a walk across the compartment, keep your eyes and nose open for any possible signs of fire- burning smell, unusually high temperature, sparks etc
·         In case some heavy luggage are blocking the door, or emergency exit, assess if you should insist that luggage be relocated
·         During night journey, it is advisable to sacrifice your sleep a bit, wake up once or twice and repeat above steps 
·         Compartment doors have a tendency to get jammed or locked. If it is closed, ensure that it is open able.
 

On spotting the fire
·         Do not panic. Panic spoils common sense as well as basic decision taking ability. Fire may not kill people, but stampede, panic, suffocation will.
·         Jumping off from running train may not be good idea. In all probability you might hit a hard object and injure yourself severely. See if you can move to another compartment which is not on fire, or wait for few minutes while the train slows down (assuming someone has pulled the chain)
·         If you feel jumping is the only option, use your arms to protect vital body part like head, if the vital part is likely to hit ground first. Where possible wait for a soft spot to jump-such as agricultural fields.
·         As fire spreads in the compartment, fresh oxygen may be available at ground level and NOT at your chest level. Duck to ground level, crawl with the wet towel wrapped around your face. If wet towel is not available, spit on your hand kerchief and use it. This will give you extra breathing time and visibility, helping in safe exit.
·         Curtains, blankets and pillows in AC coach add fuel to fire. Pushing them away from source of fire, if time permits, can delay spreading of fire
·         Do not throw water on electrical fire. (If the fire is near the switchboard near the entrance, it is likely to be caused by electrical short circuit. Do NOT throw water on it)
·         When you have your loved ones with you, do not enter into “you first-you first” emotional argument like in a Hindi movie. Train them also on basic emergency procedures.
·         If your clothes catch fire rolling on the floor can douse fire
·         If all the doors are crowded, it is possible to get out of a train (provided it is NOT moving) from the connector area that links 2 compartments. This area has soft covering. You might be able to tear it open and get out.

General comments:
  • Stay fit. Most of the above may not work if you don’t have general fitness.
  • If safety drills are conducted in your office once a while, take it seriously and participate, not just stand in a corner with colleagues and making fun of volunteers demonstrating safety procedures. One day it might save your life.
  • Have proper insurance to cover possible medical expenditures. Do not rely on large sums announced by ministers after an accident. We never know what % of that amount actually reaches victim's family.
Wishing you happy and safe journey. I've my next train journey tomorrow!

15 comments :

Unknown said...

Very useful tips.thanks a lot. We are planning a tour and today we were discussing about carrying a hammer with us. You have also shared same idea and many more. thanks a lot.

Chitra said...

Forgot to add my name. I am Chitra. Dhiru guri shared your post on FB

Bharat Singh Bhadwal said...

This post is detracting attention from the real issue. The real issue with Indian Railways is shoddy maintenance and the utter disregard for firefighting equipment or standard operating procedures in case of a fire. We as informed citizens need to draw attention to these issues and push for a pervasive, permanent fix. Individuals carrying hammers is not a solution to this problem. I would love to see and sign up for a petition that forces the Indian Rail bureaucracy to accept and address these real issues, rather than build up on stop gap measures. Looking forward to such a post.
Cheers!

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Chitra, thanks for the comment. Wish you a safe journey.

Bharat: I agree, a lot happens due to negligence of Railway officials. While fixing it in the root by ensuring proper maintenance and precautions is the right solution, that is process on its own. As a passenger what is in my immediate control is to take some basic precautions to increase my chances of survival

Praveen said...

Very informative Shri.. Keep up the good work!

Ajay said...

Very nicely put and quiet informative. thanks
Ajay

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Praveen and Ajay

Paresh Kale said...

Very well written !

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Paresh

Deguide said...

One major factor should be kept in mind never break the windows when the train is on the move, it can stoke or supply oxygen to fire, which will enable fire to spread. Wait for the train to stop and than break open the window. I too had a similar experience just with the fan on we increased the intensity of pillow fire, we switched off the fan and doused the pillow with water. First hand experience guys

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Technophilo said...

It is a good post on a note of personal safety. But is it really feasible to carry hammer or even to act instantly while one is in deep sleep and sees fire all of a sudden? Normally senses fail and one will be panic. Even Indian Railways can look into the issue more seriously as the Bhogi are almost more than a decade old now and even no proper maintenance. Nearly 1000 members will be travelling in a train.

regards,
technophilo

Shrinidhi Hande said...

I agree, coaches are getting old and need periodic replacement. We occasionally also get to read stories of how poor their maintenance yard.

We need to make some videos training people on what to do and what not to do when the see the fire and display it in stations and other places

Sangeeta Chavda said...

Very nice and informative post. The tips are very useful for me as we are planning our journey next month. http://pnrstatusonline.in/