Nine people were killed in a fire that broke out in three sleeper coaches of the overnight Bandra Terminus-Dehradun Express in the wee hours of Wednesday.
Four of them were charred, while the others died apparently from asphyxiation - suffocation caused by smoke or any other reason.
The Western Railway (WR) officials suspect a cigarette or some other inflammable material may have caused the blaze, which ripped through the S2, S3 and S4 coaches in a grim reminder of the December 28 Nanded-Bangalore Express fire that killed 26 people.
The blaze reportedly started around 2:35am in S4 when the Dehradun-bound train (No. 19019) was in Thane district neighbouring Maharashtra capital Mumbai.
"Nine people have died in the fire which spread to three coaches," said WR spokesperson Sharat Chandrayan.
The five victims of suspected asphyxiation are: Deepika Shah, 65, Dev Shankar Upadhyay, 48, Surendra Shah, 68, Nasirkhan Ahmedkhan Pathan, 50, and Feroz Khan, 38. "The others (who were charred) are yet to be identified," Chandrayan added.
Railway minister Mallikarjun Kharge announced a compensation of Rs. 5lakh each to the families of the deceased and ordered a Commission of Railway Safety (CRS) inquiry.
"The unidentified bodies will be sent to JJ Hospital in Mumbai for DNA tests," WR general manager Hemant Kumar said.
The train left Bandra Terminus in Mumbai at 12.05am. Altogether 82 passengers were travelling in the compartments which caught fire between Dahanu Road and Gholwad stations in the Mumbai-Surat section.
Apparently, 24 passengers were in the S2 coach. S3 and S4 were carrying seven and 51 passengers, respectively.
A gateman alerted the station master of Gholwad about the fire, and the train was stopped. Accident Relief Trains rushed to the spot from Valsad (in Gujarat) and Mumbai. Fire brigade personnel and three ambulances were also pressed into service.
The affected coaches were detached and around 5.30am, the train resumed journey. At Valsad, five coaches were added to the train. Two helpline numbers (022-23011853 and 022-23007388) were started for information on the tragedy.
In another hiccup for the Indian Railways on Wednesday, smoke emanating from the wheels of the Delhi-Lucknow Shatabdi Express triggered panic among passengers at Ghaziabad station in Uttar Pradesh.
"The train's brake suddenly jammed. As it was running at a high speed, smoke generated from its wheel," a Government Railway Police official said. The problem was, however, sorted out within 15 minutes. No one was injured.
The accident-prone Indian rail network, one of the world's largest, had suffered a Thane-like blow on December 28, when a blaze raced through a train carriage packed with sleeping passengers in the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh, killing 26 people and forcing terrified passengers to smash windows in a frantic bid to escape.
(With inputs from PTI and AFP)