Officials puzzled over what triggered smoke in such a short span

Two days after the Tamil Nadu Express fire, the exact cause still eludes railway officials and forensic experts, even as the evidence given by eyewitnesses did not lead to any clue.

While district officials maintained that short circuit in electric panels could have triggered the fire, railway officials avoided making any conclusions saying they preferred to wait till a detailed probe was completed. Collection of samples from the burnt S-11 coach at Nellore railway station continued on the second day on Wednesday.

Suspicions arose over how the flames engulfed the coach within minutes leaving no chance for most of the sleeping passengers to escape. Based on survivors’ accounts, it was clear that smoke first filled the coach, followed by raging flames. In their sleep itself, most victims were asphyxiated as they inhaled poisonous carbon monoxide, officials said. The question was what could have triggered so much smoke in a short span. Most of the injured were affected more by the smoke than fire. Moreover, a gateman at Vijayamahal gate level-crossing within Nellore limits alerted the officials, who rushed fire engines. Electrical and mechanical officials were said to have ruled out short circuit. The survivors’ accounts did not suggest any suspicious movement of passengers within the coach. No one reported having smelt anything wrong. The container that was thought to be having kerosene turned out to be a drinking water bottle.

Commissioner of Railway Safety D.K. Singh will begin a formal inquiry at Nellore railway station at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. “We cannot say anything now. The detailed inquiry should be completed first,” said B. Subba Rao, Additional Divisional Railway Manager, SCR.

By Wednesday, officials handed over 19 bodies of the fire victims to their kin and nine more were kept at the mortuary of the DSR District Headquarters Hospital. The mortal remains of Falak Singh, a resident of Kanpur, were cremated near Nellore by his father Prakash Singh and some friends.