Thirty-two passengers were burnt to death and 25 injured as a fire tore through a coach of a train in southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh yesterday.
The accident, on a long-distance service from New Delhi, occurred in the early hours of the morning near the town of Nellore with an electrical short-circuit seen as the most likely cause.
Images showed dozens of rescuers, survivors and crowds of onlookers milling around as the blackened and twisted bodies of victims, some burnt beyond recognition, were lifted out and laid in rows alongside the railway line.
Family members of the victims wailed and screamed, while other dazed survivors sat around quietly with their belongings.
“I woke up when people were rushing into our compartment, I was in S-10 which was attached to the S-11 coach that caught fire,” Shantanu, one of the passengers, told the NDTV news channel.
“There was smoke all around. We tried to open the emergency window, people jumped out of it.”
Railway Minister Mukul Roy announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each to the next of kin of those killed in the mishap, Rs 1 lakh to each of the grievously wounded and Rs 25,000 for those who suffered minor injuries.
The ministry also ordered an inquiry by DK Singh, commissioner of Railway Safety, into the cause of the accident, our New Delhi correspondent writes.
Additional Director General of Railways VSK Kaumudi said 32 bodies have so far been recovered from the charred compartment of the Tamil Nadu Express.
The train was travelling from New Delhi to Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu state neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.
Laxmikant, additional joint collector of Nellore, about 500 miles off Chennai, said the death toll could rise as some of the bodies are still to be recovered from the charred S-11 compartment.
Railway officials said 25 people were injured in the mishap and were admitted to different hospitals.
They said a gateman alerted them after noticing the fire around 4:15am and alerted them.
Two fire units rushed to the spot immediately and managed to prevent the spread of the blaze from the affected compartment.
Nellore District Collector B Sridhar said there was a short circuit near the toilet of the compartment and all the passengers were asleep when the fire broke out.
As the train was travelling at a speed of 110km per hour, the flames spread fast and the passengers could not come out through one of the doors because of the flames.
The burning carriage was quickly detached from the rest of the train which prevented the fire from spreading, reports AFP.
Some people could come out using the door at the other end of the coach while others were burned to death, he said, adding that the bodies have been burnt almost beyond identification.
Nellore police said 14 passengers in the compartment were safe.
Some of the passengers travelling in the train told reporters that smoke engulfed the compartment soon after the fire broke out which make difficult for them to come out.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent his condolences over the deaths and has asked the national railways ministry to coordinate the relief effort, his office said.
India’s accident-prone rail network is still the main form of long-distance travel in the huge country despite fierce competition from private airlines.
While new shiny airport infrastructure is springing up, the Indian railways — a much-romanticised legacy of British colonial rule — often appear stuck in a time-warp.
There were two fatal accidents this May alone, including a collision that killed 25 people near the southern city of Bangalore. Four passengers also died after a train derailed in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
The National Crime Records Bureau, which gathers the causes of fatalities across India, says 25,705 people in total died on the railways in 2009.
The data is not broken down, but a vast majority of these deaths are people falling from the open doors of carriages or being hit on the tracks, which are mostly unsecured.
India’s worst rail accident was in 1981 when a train plunged into a river in the eastern state of Bihar, killing an estimated 800 people.
-With The Daily Star input