Anantpur (Andhra Pradesh), Dec 28 (PTI) : An air-conditioned coach of the Bangalore-Nanded Express train caught fire in the early hours of Saturday, roasting alive 26 people in their sleep and injuring 13 others.
The fire broke out in the AC 3-tier coach B-1, fourth from the engine, near Sri Satya Sai Prasanthi Nilayam railway station, about 170 km northeast of Bangalore, at 3:45am, when most of the passengers were fast asleep.
After noticing the fire, the driver stopped the train near Kothacheruvu railway station and the coach was detached, preventing the fire from spreading to other bogies. South Western Railway said the 16-coach train had left Bangalore at 10:45pm Friday night, and the coach that caught fire was carrying 65 passengers.
“So far 26 persons have died in the incident. Rescue operations are still going on,” the police chief of Anantpur district, S Senthil Kumar, told PTI.
Janardhan, superintendent of Railway Police at Guntakal, said 13 people were injured in the mishap and have been shifted to various hospitals in Anantpur.
The cause of the fire is not immediately known but Railway Board Chairman Arunendra Kumar said prima facie there could be two reasons – short-circuit and the presence of inflammable material.
Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge described the incident as “tragic and most unfortunate” and ordered an inquiry by the Commissioner of Railway Safety.
“Preliminary reports indicate that the cause of the fire was electrical short-circuit near the Air-Conditioning Unit,” Andhra Director General of Police B Prasada Rao said.
Forensic teams from Hyderabad are on their way to the spot to collect samples for analysis.
According to railway officials, the bodies of passengers are being shifted from the accident spot to Victoria Hospital in Bangalore.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed shock and grief over the loss of lives in the mishap. He also spoke to the Railway Minister and inquired about the rescue and relief work being carried out at the site.
The Railway Minister announced an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased, Rs 1 lakh in case of grievous injuries and Rs 50,000 for simple injuries.
District Medical and Health Officer Dr C Ramasubba Rao said a thighbone of each of the deceased would be preserved for DNA test as the bodies were charred beyond recognition.
This is the second train mishap in the district. In March last year, 25 passengers were killed, near Penukonda in the district when the Bangalore-bound Hampi Express rammed into a stationary goods train after its driver apparently overshot the signal near the station here in the wee hours.
The Railway Minister has instructed officials to provide best treatment to the affected passengers.
Railway Board member (electrical), Kul Bhushan, and the Director General of Health have rushed to the accident spot from Delhi.
Indian Railways has requested relatives not to go to the accident site and instead come to Victoria Hospital for identification of bodies.