KOTHACHERUVU, India — Railway officials said Saturday that many of the people who died in an express train fire in southern India became trapped and suffocated after the doors failed to open in one car.
As the inferno and thick black smoke raced through the car on the Bangalore-Nanded Express early Saturday, panicked passengers broke the windows and many saved themselves by jumping from the train.
At least 26 of the 67 passengers in the carriage when the fire began died, said railways spokesman C.S. Gupta. The train was about 1 mile from the town of Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh state when the blaze erupted, Gupta added.
The train was brought to a halt and the burning coach was delinked from the rest of the cars to prevent the fire from spreading, Gupta said.
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The fire spread to a second coach, but the blaze was put out before it caused much damage, Gupta said.
Firefighters retrieved at least 26 bodies, including two children, said a railway official at the site of the fire. More than a dozen people were brought to hospitals with injuries incurred when they jumped from the train, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Firefighters had to force the doors open and make their way through the smoke-filled coach to reach the dead, the official said.
Many bodies were found near the jammed doors, he said.
Medical teams carried out autopsies to identify the bodies, many of which were charred beyond recognition.
The train was traveling from Bangalore to Nanded in the western state of Maharashtra.
Railways Minister Mallikarjun Kharge said preliminary reports indicated the fire was caused by an electrical short-circuit in the air-conditioning unit. An investigation was under way.
Accidents are common on India’s railroad network, one of the world’s largest, with some 18 million passengers daily, but fares are kept so low to accommodate the poor that the government has been unable to invest in repairs. Many trains are in terrible disrepair, and many stations are decrepit. Most collisions and fires are blamed on poor maintenance and human error.
An effort last year by a reformist railway chief to raise fares to pay for needed repairs was reversed immediately, and the official resigned after an outcry followed his announcement.
Material from The New York Times is included in this report.