At least nine pilgrims bound for Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu perished and 20 were injured when a fire broke out in their “private party coach” while the train was at the Madurai railway yard early on Saturday.
A gas cylinder that had been “illegally” taken inside the coach led to the blaze, Railway officials said.
The fire was noticed around 5.15 am by station officials who alerted Fire and Rescue Services personnel. Fire tenders arrived within 30 minutes and the blaze was put out by 7.15 am, officials said, adding that no other coach was damaged.
“This was a private party coach that was attached at Nagercoil Junction on Friday to Train No. 16730 (Punalur - Madurai Express) which arrived in Madurai at 3.47 am on Saturday. The coach was detached and kept at the Madurai Stabling line,” the Southern Railway said.
“While the coach was parked, some passengers in the private party coach were using the illegally smuggled cooking gas cylinder for preparing tea/snacks, which caused the fire. Most of the passengers got out of the coach on noticing the fire. Some passengers had already alighted at platform before detachment of coach,” according to the Southern Railway.
“Any individual can book a party coach using the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation portal. However, they are not allowed to carry inflammable material like gas cylinder. The coach is to be used only for transportation,” a railway official said.
The party coach had started its journey from Lucknow on August 17 and the passengers on board were scheduled to return to Chennai on Sunday by Train No. 16824 (Kollam - Chennai Egmore Ananthapuri Express and return to Lucknow from there. Most of the passengers in the coach were from Lucknow and nearby areas.
Three men and three women among the deceased have been identified, according to officials.
Alka Prajapati, a survivor undergoing treatment at a government hospital here, said
“We were sleeping when we heard the cries and tried to escape. The door was locked so we could not escape immediately. Someone broke the lock and we came out. There was thick smoke and I couldn’t breathe properly,” recounted Alka Prajapati, a survivor undergoing treatment at a government hospital in Madurai.
Women at the spot were wailing, while a child recalled the tense moments before fleeing to safety. Auto driver Mannan Prakash said people in the vicinity rushed to the accident spot soon after hearing a “sound:, but could not get near the coach because of the intensity of the blaze."
Stalin expressed anguish over the fatal incident
The victims were going towards Rameswaram for pilgrimage, Chief Minister MK Stalin said and expressed anguish over the fatal incident. Stalin directed Madurai district collector MS Sangeetha to rush to the spot. Arrangements were being made for the transportation of the bodies to their native places, he said. The chief minister announced cash relief of ₹3 lakh each to the families of the victims and deputed cabinet colleague P Moorthy to coordinate the relief efforts here.
Yogi announced ₹2 lakh ex-gratia to the victims’ kin
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adithyanath announced ₹2 lakh ex-gratia to the victims’ kin. “The loss of lives in the unfortunate train accident in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, is extremely sad and heart-wrenching. My condolences are with the bereaved families,” he said on X.
A toll-free number 1070 has also been issued for quick assistance, Adityanath said. The Uttar Pradesh government has also established 9454441081 and 9454441075 as helpline numbers.
Southern Railway also announced two helpline numbers, 9360552608, 8015681915.
President Droupadi Murmu said she was deeply pained to learn about the tragic loss of lives and prayed for the injured to make a speedy recovery.