Giridih (Jharkhand), Nov 22: Seven passengers, including an Australian woman, were charred to death when a fire broke out in two AC coaches of the Howrah-Dehradun Express in the district early today, with the Railway Minister stating that involvement of “miscreants” cannot be ruled out.
Doon Express passengers told India TV that one of the passengers inside B-1 air-conditioned coach switched off the air-conditioner and put it on heat mode at “maximum”, which heated up the wires and caused the short circuit.
Three other Australian women passengers suffered minor injuries and were admitted to the Railway Divisional Hospital.
The fire, which broke out at around 3:00 am in B-1 AC coach and then spread to B-2 AC coach, was spotted between Gomo and Nimiaghat Railway stations, Railway Protection Force Divisional Commandant Sashi Kumar told PTI.
“One Australian woman was among the seven passengers who died in the fire,” Divisional Railway Manager (Dhanbad Division) Sudhir Kumar told PTI over phone.
The four women Australian research scholars were travelling to Bodh Gaya from Howrah.
The other deceased passengers who have been are identified are 4-year-old Archita Thakur, 8-year-old Tubi Ali Akhtar, 25-year-old Dr Anumita Singh and Usha Nagar. Trivedi said the “involvement of miscreants” in the fire mishap cannot be ruled out.
“Let us wait for the inquiry report. Involvement of miscreants cannot be ruled out at this stage. But I am not speculating anything. According to the initial report, a person came with some smelly substance, then smoke came out,” Trivedi told reporters outside Parliament here.
“But I don't have more details about it. Inquiry is going on and truth will come out. So nothing can be ruled out at this stage including the miscreant angle. The real cause of the fire will be ascertained after the inquiry only,” he said.
The Railway Minister also announced ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh each for the next of kin of those killed in the fire and Rs 25,000 for the passengers of the two affected coaches.
“We have announced Rs 5 lakhs to the next of the kin of each of the deceased and Rs 25000 to those who were injured and who were in the coach no BI and B2 as they might have lost their luggage or might have been injured,” he said.
A thorough inquiry is in place and the actual cause of the accident will be only know after the Commissioner, Railway Safety, gives us the report,” Trivedi said.
Senior Divisional Commercial Manager (Dhanbad Division), Dayanand said the railway inspection team searched the two AC bogies and found seven bodies.
“We are examining the coaches to determine the cause of the fire. We are also speaking to train passengers,” he said.
Both the fire ravaged coaches, in which 128 passengers were travelling, were detached from the train which had left Howrah station last night.
Commissioner Railway Safety, Eastern Circle, has been asked to inquire into the fire and submit a report at the earliest.
The Railway Helpline numbers are: 033-26413660, 033-26402243 and 032-62220518.
Train operations on the route were restored around 7:50 am, officials said.
Eastern Railways said five of the seven killed in the mishap have been identified.
The five identified are Usha Nagar, Dr Anumita, A. Ali, Arpita and Rose, a press release issued by the Eastern Railway said.
Senior officers of the East Central Railway, including Sudhir Kumar, Divisional Railway Manager, and Additional General Manager along with other Principal Heads of the Departments from the headquarters, have reached the site by special trains to supervise rescue and restoration work.
Emergency cells have been opened at Howrah, Bardhaman and Bandel stations by the Eastern Railway to give information to the friends and relatives of the passengers travelling by that train.
It said he line had been cleared from Gomoh at 8.30 hours when the back coaches of the train were taken to Pareshnath station for attachment with the front portion. It left Pareshnath at 9.55 hours.
The East Central Railway arranged two AC 3-tier coaches at Gaya from where the train would leave for its destination, the release said.
A forensic investigation will be conducted into cause of the fire which broke out in two coaches of the Doon Express.
A Jharkhand state forensic team from Ranchi will visit Gomoh tomorrow to examine the coaches, Railway sources said.
The forensic investigation will be held in addition to the routine investigation into the accident by the Commissioner for Railway Safety, Eastern Circle, they said.
According to the sources, the fire could have spread further but for the alertness of a Permanent Way Inspector, in Gomoh, R K Pal, who alerted the engineering control room there after seeing the two burning coaches.
The control room alerted the train's driver B D Singh, assistant driver A Ansari and guard A K Khan. The train was stopped immediately and the three braved scorching heat to detach the affected coaches from the rest of the train, they said.
While the railways had made arrangements for passengers of the two coaches to continue their onward journey, 11 others who wanted to return were brought to Howrah by the Dehradun-Howrah Express.