Around 2.10am on Wednesday, a little after the Bandra-Dehradun Express had raced past Gholwad station located about 8km from Dahanu, sleepy passengers on board bogie S3 made a hurried dash for the exit. A fire had broken out on the train.
Though the cause of the blaze is yet to be ascertained, railway police officials said that the fire started in a power generator belt in the bogie.
Three of the train’s bogies caught fire about 1.5km from Gholwad station, killing nine passengers on the spot. Four of the bodies were charred beyond recognition.
The train had left Bandra terminus a little after midnight. The fire in bogie S3 spread to two adjacent bogies – S2 and S4. All three bogies were charred. Major casualties were reported from S4.
Senior police inspector DD Wadhmare of the local crime rbanch of railways said: “We found that power generator belts of S2 and S4 were intact while the generator belt of S3 was charred and was still hot when we checked it. So, it’s clear that the fire originated there,” said Wadhmare.
A senior officer of the railway police said that the fire was so intense that it burnt the track iron safety locks.
While some officers of the Railway Protection Force claimed that the fire was sparked by a cigarette butt thrown by a passenger, some said that a passenger was smoking a hookah. None of these claims was confirmed by railway officials. A forensic team will conduct a probe.
Mehul Shah, who managed to jump out of bogie S3, confirmed that passengers were smoking in the bogie. “But I don’t think this sparked the fire. It erupted in the southern end. The seats first caught fire and spread to other bogies,” said Shah.
Another passenger, who did not wish to be named, said that the restless passengers started pulling the emergency chain but the train halted much after that.
The deceased, who have been identified, include Surendra Shah, 68, his wife Deepika, 63, Naseer Khan, 50, and his brother Firoz died of suffocation. Borivli resident Devi Upadhyay, 48, also suffocated to death.
Residents near the accident site loaded the dead bodies onto tempos and handcarts due to lack of ambulances, which has been made mandatory at railway platforms according to Supreme Court guidelines.
Western Railway general manager Hemant Kumar said that an inquiry into what caused the fire has been initiated by the commissioner for safety. Commissioner of Railway Safety PS Baghel has initiated a probe with sources saying that a preliminary report could be out in 10 days.
“The three charred bogies were separated from the train and taken to Dahanu station for a panchnama,” said Kumar, adding that three fire tenders were pressed into service.
Meanwhile, sources close to senior railway officials said that the train had halted at Goregaon station after the motorman suspected some problem in coaches towards the rear of the train.
Senior police officials at the accident site said that a gatekeeper near a railway crossing had first noticed the fire and had relayed the information to the control room. This, said the officials, triggered a high alert and quick response time during the rescue operation.