x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Indian train fire that killed 32 caused by electrical fault

Another 25 people injured in blaze that began while passengers on overnight service slept.

Bystanders gather to look at a gutted train carriage, which caught fire from an electrical short circuit in Nellore.
Bystanders gather to look at a gutted train carriage, which caught fire from an electrical short circuit in Nellore.

HYDERABAD // Thirty-two people were killed yesterday when fire ripped through a coach of an overnight express train carrying sleeping passengers from New Delhi to the southern city of Chennai.

An electrical short circuit was thought to be the most likely cause of the tragedy on the long-distance service, which happened in the early hours of the morning near the town of Nellore in Andhra Pradesh state.

Dozens of rescuers and survivors, together with a crowd of onlookers, watched as the blackened and twisted bodies of victims, some burnt beyond recognition, were carried out of the train and laid in rows alongside the railway line.

Relatives of the victims wailed and screamed, while dazed survivors sat quietly.

"I woke up when people were rushing into our compartment," said a passenger called Shantanu. "I was in S-10, which was attached to the S-11 coach that caught fire.

"There was smoke all around. We tried to open the emergency window. People jumped out of it."

The central government's press office said that 32 people had lost their lives and 25 were injured. It added that families of the deceased would be offered 500,000 rupees (Dh33,000) compensation.

Nellore's chief district official, B Sreedhar, said that preliminary investigations suggested a short circuit near a toilet had started the blaze.

The railway minister, Mukul Roy, said an investigation was underway. "Nothing can be excluded and nothing can be said without an investigation," he added, shortly before rescuers completed their search for bodies, which had lasted almost 12 hours.

The train was travelling at 110 kilometres per hour when it went through Nellore station, where staff noticed the fire and informed railway authorities. The burning carriage was quickly detached from the rest of the train which prevented the fire spreading.

The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, sent his condolences and has asked the national railways ministry to coordinate the relief effort, his office said.

India's accident-prone rail network remains the country's main form of long-distance travel, despite fierce competition from airlines. While new airport infrastructure is appearing, Indian railways - a much-romanticised legacy of British colonial rule - often appear stuck in a time-warp.

There were two fatal accidents in May this year alone. A collision killed 25 people near the southern city of Bangalore andf our people died when a train derailed in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

In March, Dinesh Trivedi, the railway minister, unveiled a draft budget for 2012-13 that included a major safety upgrade financed by across-the-board fare hikes. He was forced to withdraw it and resign after a rebellion by his own party, the Trinamool Congress, which objected to increasing ticket prices for the poorest travellers.

Figures from the National Crime Records Bureau, which gathers the causes of fatalities across India, reveal that in 2009, 25,705 people died on the railways. The vast majority involved people falling from the open doors of carriages or being hit on the tracks.

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.