Whether it was a sabotage or a plain fire accident, the stark reality is that 32 passengers of the Chennai- bound Tamil Nadu express were burnt to death and at least 25 suffered burn injuries.

The tragedy in the form of a fire that struck the bogie number S-11 of the train in the wee hours today near Nellore town in Andhra Pradesh, left many scars. The passengers were so close home, as the train from New Delhi was to reach its destination in less than an hour, but fate willed otherwise.

The Union Railway Minister, Mr Mukul Roy, was quick to order an inquiry and announce ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh to each of the families of the dead and Rs 1 lakh to those seriously injured. A Committee will submit the primary report within 15 days.

The Minister said, “The cause of the fire is still unknown. However, initial reports suggest sound of a blast at the time of the incident. An electric short-circuit cannot be ruled out as well”.

The South Central Railway said the dead included three children and six women. Four bodies were yet to be identified. The fire was first noticed by the Nellore station master while the train was passing through around 4.15 a.m. It was brought to a halt between Nellore and Vedayapalem stations. It was controlled by 5.20 a.m.

Eye witnesses said, “The entire damage happened in just a few minutes, as the fire raged, spread rapidly and gutted the entire bogey, hardly giving a chance to the passengers who were mostly asleep”.

The Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr Kiran Kumar Reddy, who rushed to the spot said, “Whether sabotage or fire, it has to be thoroughly investigated. The State Forensic Lab, Commissioner of Railway Safety will investigate the cause”.

He wanted the Railway Ministry to undertake a safety audit of all trains. This is the second accident in Andhra Pradesh in recent times.

Earlier, an accident in Penugonda of Anantapur district also had nearly a dozen causalities. Mr Roy, along with his deputy, Mr K.H. Muniyappa, and the Railway Board Chairman, Mr Vinay Mittal, visited the spot in the evening and met the injured in different hospitals in Nellore town.

amitmitra@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on July 30, 2012)
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