Thursday, May 15, 2003, Chandigarh, India


B R E A K I N G   N E W S

38 killed in train fire near Ludhiana
Naveen S. Garewal
Tribune News

Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh takes a look inside a burnt bogie
Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh takes a look inside a burnt bogie.

Surviving passengers being shifted away from the accident site
Surviving passengers being shifted away from the accident site.

Laddowal (Ludhiana), May 15
Barely days after a fire tragedy claimed a dozen innocent lives in Ludhiana, catastrophe has struck again. This time 38 persons, including women and children, lost their lives when fire engulfed three bogies of the Golden Temple Express (also known as the Frontier Mail) en route Amritsar from Mumbai. The fire broke out within 10 minutes of the train leaving Ludhiana station in the early hours on Thursday morning. Twelve critically asphyxiated passengers are struggling for life in city hospitals.

Most of the victims comprised the passengers sleeping on the top berths of the middle coach (S4), who did not get enough time to move out. Eyewitnesses said that the smoke was so intense that several persons fainted before being consumed by the fire that spread quickly to the two adjoining compartments. Thirty-four of the 38 casualties were reported from this compartment, a second-class three-tier bogie.

Shahi M. K., an Army official, who lost his family grieves
Shahi M. K., an Army official, who lost his family grieves and reads a holy book. — Tribune photos Pradeep Tewari

The fire broke out around 4 am, just short of the Laddowal Bridge on the Ludhiana-Jalandhar highway. Even as the forensic experts from the Punjab Police and the Army have ruled out the possibility of sabotage, they are working on the theory that the fire could have been caused either by a short-circuit or a burning cigarette stub thrown accidentally on an inflammable material like a cooking stove that could have been a part of the passenger luggage. Sniffer dogs from the Punjab Police Academy that were brought to the site too could not detect any explosive.

Mr L.R. Thapar, Chief Operations Manager, Indian Railways, Northern Region, who was himself on board the ill-fated train told The Tribune that the train caught fire sometime between 3-50 and 4 AM. "The first medical rescue team arrived at 4.40 AM. In the meantime, it was fellow passengers, mainly Army personnel, who physically threw women and children out of the train. But for them, the tragedy would have been much higher." He added that over 200 persons were travelling in the three compartments at the time of the accident.

Medical teams from the district administration, Army Medical Corps and several private hospitals rushed teams of specialists to the site after learning about the accident from TV. In fact, newsmen were the first to arrive at the site of the accident, located just short of Laddowal village, about 12 km from Ludhiana on the Ludhiana-Jalandhar rail track.

The bodies were so badly burnt that identification merely from the appearance was virtually impossible. Eyewitnesses including Havaldar Bhagwan Singh said, "Some families were completely wiped out in the fire". There are others who have lost two or more members of their family in the tragedy. Mr. Shaji M.K, an Army personnel, is one of them. He lost his wife and two children in this tragedy.

Civil Surgeon Dr. S.N. Tewari said the 12 critically injured have been moved to the intensive care units at Christian Medical College and Hospital and the Dayanand Hospital in Ludhiana. 

PTI adds: Railways Minister Nitish Kumar has expressed his "profound grief" over the tragedy involving Frontier Mail and has directed railway authorities to intensify relief and rescue measures.

Kumar, who is in Kolkata to inaugurate a national seminar on wagon technology on Thursday, also directed the authorities to attend to those injured.

Following are the Railway control rooms with telephone numbers: Ambala (2634653, 2631275), Saharanpur (2648453, 2610757, 2610175), Jagadhari (238052, 239170) and Ludhiana.

A railways spokesman said that efforts were on to send the remaining passengers to their destinations, but the immediate priority was to provide rescue and relief to the passengers and clear the damaged bogies.

Nine of the 13 injured have been identified as Sangeeta Rani, Satya Pal and Vikram Singh, all from Meerut, Ashok Bhatia, Anil Kumar posted with BSF Jalandhar, Anil's wife Mishita, Padmawati, Ajit Kumar and Uday Bhaskar.

None of the bodies of 35 passengers brought out could be recognised as they were charred beyond recognition.

Firemen also faced a problem in refilling their firetenders, as there was no water source nearby.

Today's fire tragedy was the second major accident to hit the train in less than five years. On November 26, 1998, 211 passengers of the train died when the Sealdah Express rammed into three of its bogies which had derailed near Khanna, 42 km from here.Back


Army men live up to their reputation
Naveen S. Garewal
Tribune News Service

Laddowal (Ludhiana), May 15.
The Indian Army slogan “I am an Army man” could not be proved more right than it did on Thursday when half a dozen Army personnel travelling aboard the Golden Temple Mail put their lives at stake to save over 200 hundred passengers entrapped in the three ill-fated compartments of the train. The only regret these Army personnel have is that they could not save 38 passengers who were charred to death.

Having boarded the train at Ambala, about two hours before the fire broke out in the train, none of them could imagine that they would be delayed by hours for reaching their place of unit located in the Khem Karan sector on the Indo-Pak border. When an emergency arose, they got on top of the situation and virtually threw out passengers from the S4 compartment till it became impossible to get into the blazing compartment.

“We had boarded the S5 compartment at Ambala. The journey was normal till the train left Ludhiana railway station around 3:40 AM. But minutes later we heard screams of passengers, some of whom were shouting that the train was on fire. We pulled the chain, bringing the train at a halt”, said Havaldar A.D. Singh. The first thing this group of soldiers did was to break the interconnection between bogie S5 and S6, thereby preventing the fire spreading to bogie S6. “With the help of passengers, we physically pushed S6 away from the burning bogie,” he said

Havaldar Bhagwan Singh, who formed an instant team with the other six, moved to the adjoining bogie S4 and helped evacuate women and children. “People were trying to gather their belongings, but we forced them to leave telling them to save their lives rather than the belongings.” While he and his colleagues pushed passengers out of the burning compartment, some passengers from S6 too joined in to help.

Shuddering to recall the nightmarish experience, A.D. Singh said, “A family tried to leave the compartment, but fell unconscious. There was no time to help them and they were burnt before my eye. It was at this stage that we started throwing sand at the fire in an attempt to stop it from spreading.” He said most of the casualties were from among the people who were sleeping on the top berth. Luggage in the doorways prevented the exit, entrapping many, according to him.Back

Home | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Editorial |
Business | Sport | World | Mailbag | Chandigarh Tribune | Ludhiana Tribune
50 years of Independence | Tercentenary Celebrations |
123 Years of Trust | Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |