, HYDERABAD, Jul 30 – Thirty people were feared dead on Monday in a fire on board a passenger train travelling to the city of Chennai in southern India, a railways ministry spokesman said.
The accident, on a long-distance service from New Delhi, occurred in the early hours of the morning near the town of Nellore in Andhra Pradesh state.
“Thirty people are feared dead. I am told by our officials on the scene that rescuers can see the bodies inside the coach but they can’t get to them yet,” railways ministry spokeswoman Chandralekha Mukherjee told AFP.
One coach had been completely gutted, with rescuers struggling with the fierce temperatures inside the mostly metal carriage. Gas cutters were being used to cut open wider access for the emergency services.
“We are unable to identify the cause of the fire yet – it might have been a short circuit, it might have been due to someone carrying inflammable materials on the train,” Mukherjee added.
India’s accident-prone rail network is still the main form of long-distance travel in the huge country, despite fierce competition from private airlines.
There were two fatal accidents in May, including a collision that killed 25 people near the southern city of Bangalore. Four passengers also died after a train derailed in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
In March, the then railway minister Dinesh Trivedi unveiled a draft budget for 2012-13 that included a major safety upgrade which would be financed by across-the-board fare hikes.
But he was forced to withdraw it and resign after a rebellion from his own populist party, the Trinamool Congress, which objected to increasing ticket prices for the poorest travellers.
India’s worst rail accident was in 1981 when a train plunged into a river in the eastern state of Bihar, killing an estimated 800 people.