Fire on India express train kills 26

A fire engulfed a coach of an express train traveling through southern India on Saturday, killing at least 26 passengers, many of whom were headed home for the holidays and became trapped and suffocated after the doors failed to open.

As the inferno and thick black smoke raced through the car at about 3:45 a.m., panicked passengers broke the windows and many saved themselves by jumping from the train.

Sixty-seven passengers were in the carriage when the fire broke out about a mile from the small town of Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh state, said railways spokesman C.S. Gupta.

The train was brought to a halt and the burning coach was delinked from the rest of the cars to prevent the fire from spreading, Gupta said.

The fire spread to a second coach, but the blaze was put out before it caused much damage, Gupta said.

Firefighters put out the blaze in the burning coach and retrieved at least 26 bodies, including two children, said a railway official at the site of the fire. More than a dozen people were brought to hospitals with both severe injuries and injuries sustained when passengers jumped from the train, the official said.

Firefighters had to force the doors open and make their way through the smoke-filled coach to reach the dead, the official said.

Many bodies were found near the jammed doors, he said.

Medical teams carried out autopsies on site to identify the bodies, many of which were charred beyond recognition.

The train was traveling between Nanded and Bangalore, the heart of India’s burgeoning technology industry in the western state of Maharashtra.

Railways Minister Mallikarjun Kharge said preliminary reports from the site indicated that the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit. An investigation was underway.

Accidents are common on India’s railroad network, the world’s most extensive, with some 18 million passengers daily. But fares are kept so low to accommodate the poor that the government has been unable to invest in repairs. Many trains are in terrible disrepair, and many stations are decrepit. Most collisions and fires are blamed on poor maintenance and human error.

An effort last year by a reformist railway chief to raise fares to pay for needed repairs was reversed immediately, and the official resigned after an outcry followed his announcement.