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Indian Railways doing away with curtain in AC 3 tier coach -bankruptcy of R&D work in Railways

By on April 4, 2014

There is a news the other day that

Indian Railway has taken a decision to do away with curtains in aisle for privacy of the compartment. However, the curtain at the 1942117windows will continue. This is in view of the recommendations of the Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS), which went into the fire on the Bangalore-Nanded Express. Twenty-six people were killed in the fire that broke out on this train near Kothacheru railway station in Anantapur district (Andhra Pradesh) on December 28.

Both railway officials and commuters are terming the ministry’s decision to do away with curtains in air-conditioned coaches of long-distance trains—starting with 3AC and subsequently the upper categories—a knee-jerk reaction. There are few question needs to be answered and will certainly be demanded by Parliamentarians very soon.

  1.  Is it not as per specification or specification itself faulty?
  2. Has to material used without testing?
  3. Testing facility does not exists in India?
  4. Is it curtain only or any other item doubtful of meeting fire properties?
  5. Is the material already in use defective and industry cheated?
  6. What is the role of a curtain in a situation of fire?

This is an area of research and measurements of fire parameters. It is unfortunate that Indian Railways, one of the very large network in the world does not have fire safety guidelines, fire hazard assessment techniques, Flammability and smoke emission test methods and performance criteria for passenger coaches.

The news (http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-railways-no-curtain-in-diktat-points-its-failure-on-fire-lab-front-1974384)   also states that the premier research organisation of Indian Railways, namely Research Design Standards Organisation (RDSO) is struggling to build a state-of-the-art fire test laboratory. The fire lab has been in its planning stage since January 2006 when it was first proposed, and railway board and RDSO experts held several rounds of technical discussions with officials from SCNF, the French national railways, then. As per RDSO records, the project was to be completed by December 2008. The project was revived with vigour in 2011-12, and again at a meeting on March 12, 2013. Two firms, one from South Korea and the other from Chennai, expressed interest in building the fire lab. However, nothing came of it. The latest tender to build the fire lab was invited this February with September 2014 as the deadline. However, still there are apprehensions that  this deadline may not deliver any result. But there is some belief that considering the spate of fires on trains in the past few months, there will be pressure to  speed  up projects connected to fire safety on trains.

What is fire?

Fire Triangle

Fire Triangle with fourth dimension of chemical chain reaction

Oxygen, Heat and Fuel are three ingredients of fire best illustrated as a Fire Triangle and when mixed in the right mixture. It can be extinguished when their mix is disturbed.  There is one more important dimension to fire and that is chemical chain reaction and these four dimensions make it a fire tetrahedron. All the dimensions are important to initiate and sustain the fire. Every item used in the manufacturing of a coach is having properties indicative of the four dimensions and right quality only ensures the protection towards fire.

Cone Calorimeters is a modern device used to study the fire behaviours of small samples of ingredients which goes in the manufacturing of the coach. It collects data of the ignition time, mass loss, combustion produces, heat release rate and other parameters associated with its burning. RDSO is struggling to set up a world class fire laboratory for measurement of fire properties and recommendations of material to be used. In the absence of such testing facility, Railways is not sure of the material that goes in the manufacturing of the coach and how it will behave in the unforeseen situation of fire. Is this the reason for doing away with curtain?

Is there no laboratory in India having similar facility?

CPRI, a Govt. testing laboratory is having flame retardant and low smoke laboratory for testing of material not only cables and electrical items but also items like PVC conduit pipes, flooring materials, fabrics/curtain, any type of plastic item, etc. The tests includes heat release measurement using cone calorimeter, toxicity index test, limiting oxygen index, temperature index, smoke density, fire resistance test, flammability test etc.

What should be Railways priority?

Indian Railways is struggling since long to make the passenger coaches safe towards fire. This has put a question mark on the technical capability of IR. If that is the case, it put a question mark on its competency to initiate negotiations with developed countries for high-speed railways. Non availability of testing facility is resulting ad hoc-ism in the decision-making process such as doing away with curtain and tomorrow it could be cushion seat as well. If it cannot set up its own testing facility, then why not make use of facilities at CPRI or one of the large many  renowned laboratory in the world? The other priority area is to  take Indian industry in the loop to develop it to supply  materials which meet the latest standard of fire safety.

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There Are 5 Comments

  1. V.Janakiraman says:

    It beats one’s credibility – remove curtains in the aisles but keep them in the windows! If the latter are fire proof, why not use the same material for the aisle also.
    RDSO is actually a grand name for the successor to the Central Standards Office (Simla), which was essentially a standards organisation.
    Some designs have come out of this place
    RESEARCH – where are the wherewithalls for it – Can people put there for shot periods do, any long term work. Edison tried a 1000 things before arriving at the carbon filament for his lamp. Does any one have that time or temperament to do so. We also had people who were in charge, and felt that a pen paper and brains were all that was required, no laboratory equipment!

    • Mahesh Kumar Jain says:

      Very rightly stated. And with this attitude and understanding of technology, IR want to explore in the world of High Speed. Will it be possible with this attitude?

  2. Brian says:

    Since the IR does not have the in house capability for developing technologies suitable for running one of the largest and most complex Rail systems in the world, the Government of India Ministry of Railways should seek collaboration with other institutions such as National Physical laboratories, Indian Institute of Science, IIT’s, BARC etc.
    If all the above don’t have the capabilities (almost unbelievable), we should hire foreign agencies/ expertise to show us how it is done. After all testing materials for flammability, smoke emission etc isn’t exactly rocket science, something India has time and against proven capable of.
    Regarding exploring high speed rail, India is already late in the race. China, who were a very late entrant is today one of the largest manufacturer of HS Rail equipment. All it needs is collaboration, technology transfer and management, and training.
    Perhaps the one reason why we have fallen so far behind in Railway R&D is each Rail minister’s aversion to raise rail fares in order to cling to power. Cheap rail fares eventually translates to cheap value of commuters lives. If all we can afford to spend on RDSO is salaries, then we shouldn’t expect much.

    • Mahesh Kumar Jain says:

      Thanks very much for your comments sir. I would like to add that India is late in many areas as compared to China and not only in high speed. The foremost is growth. China has grown at an average rate of 9.14% since 1982 as compared to only around 5% that of India. Unless we target all inclusive growth rate of around 9% for next 10 years, spending 200 Crs/Km with highly inflated revenue model for a limited class of population is not good for the nation. During this growth, China has generated lot of potential energy to spend in the areas of high end technologies (not only in high speed) to garner business across the world. India should look for options that are best suited to its large population. What this 200 Crs/Km can do to Rail base transportation system?
      1. Build metro network to ease traffic congestion to serve all class of population. The estimated cost of Mumbai-Ahmadabad is sufficient to build a network of 300 Km metro network and will serve 10 times more population as compared to high speed network.
      2. Quadrupling of rail network on approach to metropolitan cities to run sub-urban trains for economical model of transport to large population spending about 10 Crs/Km
      3. Upgrade existing rail network of Shatabdi route to 160 Kmph achieving an average speed of 120 Kmph as compared to 90 Kmph exiting today. For this, rolling stock technology exists except ensuring few safety features.
      India shall decide judiciously in the interest of masses looking for most economical mode of transport instead falling victim of marketing strategy of few counties. Indian should also be careful from the studies where there is tendency to inflate the traffic projections to make the project finanically viable. Let the money be spend by private funding instead public money, if we are so postiive about the financial projections.

  3. Babu says:

    What is the necessity of having curtains in III AC and II AC. Some lady passengers complain that, they face more problems when curtains are closed in AC compartments. In view of security & safety there is no requirement of curtains.