At least 32 passengers died and 25 others were injured when a major fire broke out in the S11 coach of the Tamil Nadu Express, in the wee hours of Monday at Nellore in Andhra Pradesh. Officials feared the toll could touch 50. Of the 32 victims, 19 were male, six were female and six were children. The New Delhi-Chennai Express was passing the Nellore railway station at a speed of about 110 kmph, when fire engulfed the coach at 4.14 am. The Railways suspect sabotage as one of the possible reasons for the incident.
When the fire, suspected to have been caused by a short circuit in one of the toilets, started, the passengers were asleep. Eyewitnesses said they heard a loud noise and when they woke up the coach was filled with thick smoke. There were cries for help as flames spread fast, consuming the foam leather of the berths. Some passengers were burnt on their berths and seats, while others collapsed in the stampede to exit the coach. Many died of asphyxiation and were charred beyond recognition. As railway staff, using gas cutters, opened the coach, they found the charred bodies. Survivors claimed rescue services responded slowly and reached the spot only 30 minutes after the fire was reported. They blamed security men in the train for not keeping vigil during the night and said they couldn’t find even a single security officer during the journey.
Later, sources in Southern Railway told Express that 13 survivors had returned to Chennai. Some of them had very minor injuries.
Railway Minister Mukul Roy has ordered an inquiry and said he had information about a gateman manning a level crossing and survivors saying they had first heard a loud noise and then saw flames. However, he added that preliminary probe pointed to the fact that there was no sabotage involved.