NEW DELHI – A fire engulfed two coaches of an express train in southern India early Saturday, killing at least 23 passengers, many of whom became trapped and suffocated after the doors failed to open, officials said.
As the inferno and thick black smoke raced through the two cars at 3:45 a.m., panicked passengers broke the windows and many saved themselves by jumping from the train.
A spokesman for the railways, C.S. Gupta, said 67 passengers were in the two cars when the fire broke out about two kilometers (1 mile) from the small town of Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh state.
Gupta said the train was brought to a halt and the two coaches were delinked from the rest of the train to prevent the fire from spreading.
Firefighters put out the blaze and retrieved at least 23 bodies, including two children. More than a dozen people were brought to hospitals with injuries sustained when they jumped from the coaches, said a railway official at the site of the fire.
Firefighters had to force the doors open and make their way through the smoke-filled coaches to reach the dead, the official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Many bodies were found near the jammed doors, he said.
The train was traveling from Bangalore to Nanded in the western state of Maharashtra.
India's federal Railways Minister Mallikarjun Kharge said that preliminary reports from the site indicated that the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit. An investigation was underway.
More than 18.5 million passengers travel every day on India's vast railway network of about 10,000 passenger trains.
Accidents are common on India's railroad network — one of the world's largest with some 18 million passengers daily. Most collisions and fires are mostly blamed on poor maintenance and human error.