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More Than 30 Killed in Indian Train Fire - 2003-05-15

A fire swept through an express train in northern India, killing at least 38 people and injuring more than 20 others.

The Golden Temple Express was near the northern city of Ludhiana, about 300 kilometers north of New Delhi, when the fire broke out just before dawn.

It was heading to the city of Amritsar from Bombay. The fire spread quickly through three rear sleeping coaches. Naveen Garawal, the regional bureau chief for the Tribune newspaper, says many passengers never had a chance to escape. "The fire started so quickly it engulfed three bogeys [cars] S-3, S-4 and S-5. Not many people had a chance to jump or get out or anything. It all happened in a matter of seconds," he said.

More than 30 bodies were found in one of the three coaches. Many passengers, like Aparna Upadhav, were sleeping when the fire started. "When we both were up we were desperate to pull the chain, so we could stop the train and get out of the coach," she said. "The smoke was very dense and engulfing us from all sides. There was real chaos in the coach."

Railway authorities say they are investigating the cause of the fire.

Preliminary reports from authorities say the fire might have started in a toilet and could have been caused by a lit cigarette.

Authorities have ruled out sabotage as a cause for the fire. Last year 58 people - most of them Hindu activists - died when a train they were traveling on was set on fire, allegedly by Muslims in India's Gujarat state. The incident led to widespread rioting in the state that left more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead.

Thursday's fire was the worst rail disaster in India since last September when 50 people died in a train that plunged off a bridge in Bihar state.

There are more than 300 accidents every year on India's huge rail network. Eleven thousand trains run every day, carrying as many as 13 million passengers. Most of the accidents are minor. However, several big accidents in recent years have been blamed on antiquated equipment and overcrowding.