| A Shatabdi Express compartment that caught fire. Telegraph picture
Gurap (Hooghly), Aug. 25: Passengers inside two bogies of the Down Patna-Howrah Shatabdi Express had a fortuitous escape as a fire raged and charred one of the coaches around 12.30 pm near here, about 60 km from Calcutta.
The fire apparently began in the switch box in coach number C-4 when the train was passing Masagram station. Even as passengers panicked and began rushing towards the next coach, a cabinman at Gurap station spotted smoke billowing out of the train and alerted the driver over wireless.
The fire spread rapidly to C-5 forcing people to rush towards the vestibule. There were about 60 passengers in the two compartments.
The train was brought to a halt about 2 km from Gurap station where passengers jumped off and watched the flames spread.
There were no casualties. No one was injured either. But the fire could have led to a disaster had it been at night and the collapsible gates between compartments were locked. Most passengers today managed to move to an adjoining compartment before the fire spread.
Railway personnel rushed to the spot from Gurap even as local people launched the firefight with water from an adjacent paddy field.
Station manager of Gurap S.S. Roy was one of the first railway officials to arrive.
Fire officer P.. De came with four fire tenders around 1.15 pm but the engines could not be put to use as there was no way they could get near the rake.
“Farmers working on the field had rigged up a diesel pump set. We used it to spray water on the burning bogies, pumping it from the paddy fields,” De said.
He added that most probably, a malfunction in the air-conditioning system of the train had caused the fire.
Senior officials of the Eastern Railway and the Hooghly administration arrived around 3 pm. Residents of the area had by then nearly wrapped up the rescue and evacuation mission.
“We heard about the fire at our control room around 12.45 pm and immediately alerted all concerned. A relief train was despatched from Burdwan,” said divisional railway manager, Howrah, Swapan Chowdhury.
Power lines in the section were switched off immediately, said Chowdhury. A Government Railway Police team from Kamarkundu was in Gurap, tackling the curious onlookers.
The burnt coaches were separated from the other six and a diesel engine from Howrah tugged them along with the shaken passengers around 3.25 pm.
All trains on the Howrah-Burdwan chord line were held up till 4.30 pm. The Shatabdi passengers had to wait for the engine from Howrah to take them to the destination. Durgapur Expressway, where buses to get to the city were available, was 4 km away.
“I was in C-4. I heard a loud bang and crackles from the rear-end switch box. As we saw smoke, we rushed towards C-3. The train stopped within minutes and we climbed down,” said Satyajit Chatterjee, who had boarded the train from Asansol. “We saw the fire spread.”
Shyamal Pal, who was among the villagers helping to put out the flames, said he was working in the field when he saw the burning train rush by. “We ran after it when we saw flames between two carriages. Luckily, it stopped.”