Despite conduction evacuation drills like this (in photo) at regular intervals, Metro rescue team failed to act fast on Thursday.
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Kolkata: A few hundred passengers went through the scariest moment of their life yet after a fire broke out in a Kolkata Metro train today and the rescue team took a good 26 minutes to get into action.

Some 50-odd passengers were taken ill mostly due to inhaling smoke and a few suffered cut injuries in trying to break windowpanes of the train so to come out to safety. Till late this evening, 16 of them are admitted to the state-run SSKM Hospital.

The Dum Dum-bound air-conditioned train departed from Rabindra Sadan station at 4.56 pm and barely moved into the underground tunnel that the passengers heard a loud sound emanating from below the first of the eight-coach rake.

Before they could make anything out of it, all lights in the train went off barring the dim-lighted emergency bulbs and the passengers noticed fire sparks emitting out from either side of the first and second coach of the train.

Even after this, the train kept on moving but at very slow speed and then came to a grinding halt inside the dark tunnel. It was soon that smoke started filling the coaches of the AC train sealed with glass doors and windows.

Being late afternoon when people return home from office, the train was crowded. The smoke added to this and soon several passengers started facing breathing trouble. A large number of them were also panic-stricken as fire sparks were still emitting from under the coaches.

Several passengers dialed Metro Railway’s helpline but very few of them met with success. With smoke gradually engulfing the entire train, some of the passengers started attempting to break the glass windows of the coaches so to get out of the trapped condition.

It took them several minutes until they were able to break a window and, some passengers then slipped out from the train onto the narrow space between the stranded train and the tunnel walls. In trying to do so, a few passengers suffered cut injuries on their arms and legs.

By then it was 5.22 pm that a Metro Railway rescue team reached the spot and started evacuating the trapped passengers through the rearmost coach which is equipped with an inbuilt ladder for rescue operations.

Three fire tenders had also arrived outside Rabindra Sadan station to deal with eventuality. Some 50-odd passengers who fell ill were moved out of the station in stretchers and at once rushed to SSKM Hospital in ambulances.

Most of them were subsequently discharged on first-aid but 16 had to be admitted for a longer course of treatment. Jagmohan, the director general of Bengal fire services department, who went to the station to take stock of the situation, said that the injuries of the passengers are not grievous.

Kolkata Police commissioner Rajeev Kumar and other senior police officers of the city also visited the station to oversee the rescue drive.

Despite several passengers alleging that Metro took a good 26 minutes to start the rescue operation, Metro Railway spokesperson Indrani Banerjee maintained that there was no delay.

She said that the Metro control room got the distress information at 5.02 pm, the rescue team was mobilised at once and, the passengers were rescued by 6 pm.

As regards the cause of the fire, it prima facie appears to have been caused by friction in the power traction of the train’s engine and the third rail connector. Metro authorities have ordered a probe to ascertain the exact cause.

Because of the incident, Metro services remained suspended completely till 6.30 pm when a truncated service was resumed on Noapara-MG Road and Tollygunge-New Garia stretches. Normal services on the full stretch between Noapara and Kavi Subhash resumed at 7 pm.