A day after a massive fire killed nine passengers on the Bandra-Dehradun Express, the Government Railway Police (GRP) have submitted an interim report to its Commissioner, stating that the blaze originated from the junction box near the lavatory of coach S3.

“The intensity of the fire was such that the wires in the S3 compartment were charred,” said the report, accessed by The Hindu. It said the fans fitted on the ceiling of the compartment were found on the floor.

“Many passengers have said in their statements that they saw a thick dense smoke emerging from seat no. 79 located near the lavatory,” said sources. The fire was so massive that the toilet seat of aluminium melted.

“Both the junction box and the battery were badly damaged, leaving only a few wires,” the sources said. The police are now awaiting expert opinion from the Kalina Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) here, which will throw light on the exact cause. “Whether the fire was caused by short circuit or faulty wiring needs to be ascertained, and this can be established by the FSL,” the sources said.

The interim report has also ruled out a cigarette being the reason, while the Railway Protection Force (RPF) says it is one of the strongest angles it is looking at. Sources in the RPF claim that they have recorded a statement of a passenger on S6 coach, claiming he saw a lady who looked like a ‘foreigner’ smoking in the gangway between S3 and S4.

On the other hand, the GRP claims none of the eyewitnesses seated in the affected coaches saw any lady passenger smoking. Also it’s highly unlikely for a passenger seated on S6 to spot anything in the gangway of S2 and S3.

Both the coaches were at least 180 feet away from each other, the sources said.

“We have recorded the statements of around 50 passengers. None of their statements matches with the one allegedly made to the RPF by the passenger on coach S6. We are yet to record his statement,” the sources said.

“Also the epicentre of the fire was the lavatory of S3, which is located between S2 and S3, and therefore there is little credence to the theory,” they said.

The police said the fire spread wide and rapidly because the wires were loose and at many places unconcealed.

Of the nine, five persons died because of asphyxiation. The smoke spread to the other compartments as the doors and windows were closed. “It was night, therefore the passengers had shut all the doors and windows because of the cold. This gave the smoke no scope. The casualties due to suffocation wouldn’t have been high had the incident happened in the day, when the windows are normally open,” the sources said.

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