Railway Minister Mukul Roy said he has set up a committee to inquire into the fire that broke out in a coach of the Tamil Nadu Express in Vijayawada division near Nellore at around 2.30 a.m. on Monday. The committee will submit its report within 15 days, he said.

Mr. Roy also announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs. 5 lakh to each of the bereaved families, Rs. 1 lakh to those seriously injured in the incident and Rs. 25,000 to those with minor injuries. The Railways will also offer a job to one of the dependents of those killed.

“The cause of the fire is not yet known and I would not like to say anything on the matter as that could influence the inquiry”, Mr. Roy told journalists.

There were reports of a blast heard at the time of the incident. Nothing can be ruled out, like an electric short-circuit or the presence of inflammable material, he added.

On what measures the Railways was considering to improve safety and security in trains, Mr. Roy said he had taken up the matter of “total safety awareness” with the Prime Minister and the Planning Commission.

“For the required technological support there is need for funds. We are preparing a detailed project report which we will soon give to the Prime Minister, possibly within the first week of August”, he said.

“In the Indian Railway system there are 20,000 trains running each day…. There are nearly 2.2 million passengers travelling and one small human error could cause extensive damage”, he said.

“We will definitely try to ensure that no such incident recurs in future”. Mr Roy added.

Describing the fire in the Tamil Nadu Experss as “a very tragic incident”, Mr. Roy said that he will be taking the first available flight to Chennai at 3 p.m. and should be at the spot of the incident at around 6 p.m.

“Some including a section of the electronic media are wondering why the Railway Minister is not at the spot. There are no flights to Chennai before 3 pm. The Railway Minister does not live in Chennai”, Mr. Roy said.