An air conditioned coach of the Bangalore-Nanded Express went up in flames in the wee hours of Saturday, killing 26 passengers in yet another train mishap in this Andhra Pradesh district. Some of the victims were charred to death and others were killed while trying to jump out of the bogie in vain. The coach went up in flames due to suspected electric short-circuit in the AC unit.
The Railway Ministry ordered two separate inquiries into the incident, even as opposition parties trained their guns at the Centre over frequent train accidents.
The 16594 Bangalore-Nanded Express reached Puttaparthi railway station around 3.05 am and after a brief halt, it chugged on. After about 10 minutes, as the train reached Kothacheruvu railway gate, a few kilometres from Puttaparthi, passengers of B1 AC three-tier coach noticed flames and tried to pull the chain and stop the train.
There were 64 passengers. As the fire spread, they ran helter-skelter and in the melee, a pregnant woman jumped out and died. The remaining passengers tried to reach the other compartments, but one side of the coach was closed. Passengers jostled from one end and as flames engulfed, they were trapped and burnt alive. “We tried to break the windows, but could not. The exits didn’t open easily and it was after breaking the toilet window that some of us managed to escape,” said a survivor.
Though the attempt to halt the train failed, it was a call by a passenger to the Bangalore control room that saved many lives. The officials at the control room alerted their counterparts at Puttaparthi, who notified the driver. “As the train had just moved out of the Puttaparthi railway station, it had not picked up much speed. Also, it was running slowly due to foggy conditions,” another survivor said.
Railway Minster Mallikarjun Kharge, who visited the spot, said two separate inquiries will be conducted into the incident. He announced an ex-gratia of `5 lakh to the families of the deceased people.