Thirty-eight people were killed and 13 hurt on Thursday morning when three bogies of the Mumbai-Amritsar Frontier Mail caught fire near Ladhowal railway station -- 10 km from Ludhiana.
Many bodies were charred beyond recognition, Railway Divisional Commercial Manager (Ambala) M S Meena said.
The injured have been shifted to Christian Medical College hospital, Civil Hospital and Dayanand Medical College in Ludhiana. Civil Surgeon Dr S N Tiwari said most of the injured had 'respiratory burns'.
Nine of the 13 injured have been identified. They are Sangeeta Rani, Satya Pal and Vikram Singh (all from Meerut), Border Security Force personnel Ashok Bhatia and Anil Kumar, Mishita, Padmavati, Ajit Kumar and Uday Bhaskar. None of dead or injured are from Mumbai.
"We have already discharged Uday Bhaskar. But two patients, D V Sharma of Hyderabad and Ashok Bhatia of Pitampura in Delhi, are still with us and they have 5 and 10 per cent burn injuries respectively," Dr D S Panu said.
Two more patients, Padmavati of Hyderbad and BSF jawan Anil Kumar of Kerala, are in serious condition, while the rest are still recovering from shock.
Dr John Abraham, medical superintendent of CMC said, "Nine out of 14 injured persons have received superficial burn injuries, but since they have inhaled lot of smoke therefore the damage could be in lungs and respiratory track. We would have to keep them under observation for 48 hours before they are discharged."
A railway spokesman in Delhi said there was no sign of any sabotage. "Prima facie, it is a case of electric short circuiting or sparking or leakage of some inflammable objects being carried by passengers," he said.
Army Havildar A D Singh, who was travelling in S-4 coach, said he saw a co-passenger throwing a cigarette butt inside the bogie after which the entire compartment caught fire. He added the fire spread to other coaches and would have engulfed more if the passengers had not pulled the emergency lever and stopped the train.
Another passenger, Safi Pitoliwali, travelling with three other families from Daund, said when he got up early in the morning he saw electrical wires near a toilet in his coach S-5 catching fire.
Pitoliwali said he immediately raised an alarm alerting other passengers and pulled the chain. The train stopped after 3-4 minutes. A police officer travelling in the train also passed on a message to his colleagues.
Divisional Railway Manager (Ambala) Keshav Chandra said S-3, S-4 and S-5 sleeper coaches were completely gutted by the fire. The roof of S-5 coach totally melted due to the heat. Twelve fire tenders battled for nearly two hours to bring the blaze under control. The coaches caught fire about 10 minutes after the train left Ludhiana at 0335 hours IST.
A Northern Railway spokesman said the train had left for Amritsar after the affected coaches, S-3, S-4 and S-5, were detached. They have been shifted to the railway yard at Ludhiana. Forensic experts from Punjab Police surveyed the coaches.
Services on the Ludhiana-Jalandhar section, which were suspended for some time, had now resumed. Several trains were running late because of the accident.
Railway sources said the fire appeared to have started from S-4 coach. The blaze intensified and engulfed other coaches because of the speed of the train, which was running at 90-100 kilometres per hour. Flames from the burning coaches were visible from a distance of four kilometres. Firemen also faced a problem in refilling their fire engines, as there was no water source nearby.
Relief and medical teams from Ambala have reached the accident spot and railway authorities have set up control rooms at Ambala, Mumbai, Delhi, Saharanpur and Jagadhari to provide information to the people. Officers of the Ferozpur division, in whose jurisdiction the accident site falls, have also reached the spot. Army personnel have also joined the relief and rescue operations.
Railway Minister Nitish Kumar has expressed his 'profound grief' over the tragedy. Kumar, who is in Kolkata to inaugurate a national seminar on wagon technology on Thursday, also directed the authorities to attend to those injured. He also announced compensation of Rs 100,000 to the next of kin killed. Kumar along with Railway Board Chairman I M S Rana will reach Ludhiana in the afternoon to take stock of the situation.
Following are the railway control rooms with telephone number:
- Ambala: 0171- 2634653, 0171-2631275
- Amritsar: 0183-2225087, 0183-2307055
- Jagadhari: 238052, 239170
- Mumbai: 022-23098224
- New Delhi railway station: 011-23341074, 011-23742792
- Old Delhi railway station: 011-23962389
- Nizamuddin railway station: 011-24356674, 011-24354748
- Saharanpur: 0132-2648453, 0132-2610757, 0132-2610175