Indian Railways Minister Mukul Roy has ordered an inquiry into a passenger train fire that killed at least 32 people (initially said to have been 47) in the Andhra Pradesh state. The Tamil Nadu Express coach caught fire as it passed through Nellore station early Monday en route from Delhi to Chennai. It’s unclear what caused the blaze, but authorities say it was likely an electrical short circuit.
However, Roy says sabotage can’t be ruled out. At a news conference, he said the inquiry has been ordered to determine the cause of the fire and will submit a preliminary report to the Railways Ministry in 15 days. He was told the operator of the level crossing close to Nellore station heard a loud sound when the fire happened. They don’t know the cause of the blaze, and nothing can be ruled out or determined without an investigation. It will be probed if inflammable substances were in the passenger car or if it was caused by a short circuit.
The Ministry of Railways said in a statement that the statutory inquiry will be conducted by Shri D.K. Singh – Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS)/South Central Circle – under the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The relatives of each victim will also be paid 500,000 rupees (£5,700) in compensation from the ministry. Passengers that were seriously injured will be paid 100,000 rupees, and those with minor injuries will receive 25,000 rupees.
It’s been reported that some of the passengers on the train said smoke filled the compartment soon after the fire started, making it hard for them to escape. One survivor, S Mandanlal, told a newspaper that he heard at least three blasts in the coach that caught fire. He believes it was a planned attack by rebels and not an accident like police believe.
Madanlal, an electrical equipment wholesaler dealer, was on his way to Chennai for business. He says he was among the first few passengers to get to the exit door in the car, which had been difficult in itself. He first heard the blast sound, as well as two more blast noises. Then he jumped from the train soon after smelling smoke and seeing the blaze spreading fast across the coach. Soon after jumping out, he fell unconscious and was admitted to Bollineni Hospital.
The survivor is certain the blast is what caused the fire. He says there wouldn’t have been such a deafening sound if the cause was a short circuit. He added that he’s prepared to give his statement on record in front of investigators if summoned to do so.
India operates 9,000 passenger trains on its railway, which carries about 18 million passengers a day. Accidents are common on the immense state-owned network, with 1,220 people being killed in the last five years, according to railway officials. In May, 24 were killed when a passenger train collided with a goods train in the Andhra Pradesh state. The Railways minister says the time has come for safety measures to be upgraded and for the network to get budgetary support for it. He will raise the issue of safety in trains with the Planning Commission and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
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