Twenty six people,including two children,were killed and 12 injured when a fire broke out in the AC 3-tier
B-1 coach of the Bangalore-Nanded Express train at Kothacheruvu near Puttaparthi in the early hours of Saturday.
While the Commissioner of Railway Safety will formally probe the incident,a preliminary inquiry by Railways is learnt to have ruled out short-circuit and indicated the presence of a foreign object which could have started the fire.
According to Railway officials who inspected the gutted coach,the area near berth 64,where the coachs power panel was located,did not seem to have been burnt. Moreover,the battery fuse was also found intact. In case of a short circuit,these two would have been affected.
According to reports,the fire broke out at 3:10 am,when most of the 65 passengers were sleeping. Some managed to escape by breaking the window panes or running to the next coach. The train was stopped and the B-1 coach detached to stop the fire from spreading.
Fire and emergency service vehicles from Puttaparthi were called in to douse the flames. The Kothacheruvu police,Ananthapuram district police,Railway Protection Force and the state railway police rushed to the spot. Local residents also helped in the rescue operation.
By 11:30 am,the rescue team had pulled out 26 bodies. Nine of the bodies have been identified as P Leela,Rajanathan,N Sudha,K Kulakarni,Amir Kumar,Eshwarappa Lingappa,Bhagyaraj,Sarvamngala and S R Krishnamurthy. DNA tests will be performed to identify the remaining bodies.
Among those who are reported missing are Dr Asra,her son Mohammed Rahi and brother-in-law Ibrahim Rahi,software engineer Rahul of Adhoni and engineer Prathap Vinay.
While six of the injured passengers suffered minor burns,the others sustained 15-45 per cent burns.
Quoting survivors,officials said most of the victims seemed to have died due to asphyxiation caused by the smoke. A passenger on berth 32,whose relatives died,said he saw fire on the floor. A foreign object appears to have caused the fire, said a senior Railway ministry official. Sources said local officials did not rule out a sabotage angle.
Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge,who rushed to the spot,said cigarettes,explosive objects and liquor would be strictly banned on trains. He also announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 5 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased,Rs 1 lakh for those with serious injuries and Rs 50,000 for the others injured.