MUMBAI: A fire on an overnight train killed at least nine people Wednesday with sleeping victims overcome by the flames and smoke as the blaze ripped through three carriages, a railways official said.
The disaster, which comes less than a fortnight after 26 people were killed in a similar fire tragedy, happened shortly after the train left Mumbai on a journey to the northern city of Dehradun.
"Nine people have died from the fire which spread to three coaches in the night. The fire broke out at about 2:30 am," said the press officer for Western Railways, Sharat Chandrayan.
The blaze, the cause of which is not yet known, started when the train was in the Thane district neighbouring Mumbai.
"The gateman at a railway station informed the guard inside the train," Chandrayan said.
Many passengers were able to escape from the blazing coaches by breaking open the back doors, a survivor, Mehul, told news channel CNN-IBN, but the nine victims, including a woman, died of suffocation.
"All the windows and doors were sealed shut and the compartments were packed with smoke. Some escaped but those who couldn't died because they couldn't breathe," Mehul told the channel.
Last month, a fire 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.
The poorly funded and accident-prone Indian rail network, one of the world's largest, is still the main form of long-distance travel in the vast country.
The exit doors of Indian trains are customarily locked at night, while the carriage windows are covered with bars, making escape difficult.
These tragedies come a little over a year after another train accident also in the state of Andhra Pradesh killed 32 people and shone the spotlight again on the Indian rail network's dismal safety record.
India's worst rail accident was in 1981 when a train plunged into a river in the eastern state of Bihar, killing an estimated 800 people.
Many also die unlawfully crossing the tracks, which lack proper barriers and crossing points. An official report in 2012 found that 15,000 are killed this way in India every year, a figure the government described as a "massacre". (AFP)