Lahore: A fire swept through a Pakistani train, killing 74 people and injuring nearly 40 others after two gas cylinders that passengers were using to cook breakfast exploded, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the minister of railways said. The fire destroyed three of the train’s carriages. It was on its way to Rawalpindi, near the capital, from the southern city of Karachi.
“Two stoves blew up when people were cooking breakfast, the presence of kerosene with the passengers in the moving train further spread the fire,” Ahmed said. Many were killed when they leapt from the moving train to escape the flames, he said. People sneaking stoves onto trains to prepare meals on long journeys is a common problem, the minister said. Shortly before the fire broke out, the conductor had ordered some passengers to stop cooking but they had ignored him, Ahmed said.
But several survivors questioned whether the fire was sparked by a cooking accident, telling media they believed the cause was a short-circuit in the train’s electrical system. Television pictures showed fire and black smoke pouring from the train’s windows after it came to a stop on a stretch of line flanked by fields. “People were jumping off, some of them were on fire,” a witness said. Some of the victims were burned beyond recognition, said the deputy commissioner of the district.
PM Imran Khan ordered an inquiry to be completed on an urgent basis. Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where the railways have seen decades of decline due to corruption, mismanagement and lack of investment. Media reports suggest that railways officials did not notice when passengers boarded the train, carrying gas stoves.
The railway minister has admitted his administration’s failure for not checking the cylinders the passengers brought with them. “It was our fault. And we will investigate it,” he said. It was the worst disaster on Pakistan’s accident-plagued railway system in nearly 15 years. About 130 people were killed in 2005 when a train rammed into another at a station in Sindh province, and a third train hit the wreckage.
In July, at least 23 people were killed in the same district when a passenger train coming from the eastern city of Lahore rammed into a goods train that had stopped at a crossing. Accidents often happen at unmanned crossings, which frequently lack barriers and sometimes signals.