Pakistan train fire kills 74 as gas stove explodes

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies

The death toll from a train fire in Pakistan has risen to 74 and another 43 people have been injured, after a gas stove erupted on board.

Flames roared through the train cars on Thursday as the train travelled through the country's eastern Punjab province and approached the town of Liaquatpur.

Kaleem Ullah, an official with the district emergency services, says 11 people are still in a critical condition following the blaze

The blaze is the latest tragedy to hit Pakistan's dilapidated, poorly maintained and mismanaged rail system.

The fire erupted after a gas stove exploded on board. Credit: AP

Deputy Commissioner Jamil Ahmed said the death toll had risen steadily since the early morning, after a gas stove exploded as breakfast was being prepared on board, he added.

He said it was cooking oil carried on the train by a group of Islamic missionaries known as Tableeqi-e-Jamaat that had caught fire after the initial cooking stove exploded, contributing to the extent of the blaze and its speedy progress.

Survivors recounted horrific scenes of fellow passengers screaming as they jumped through the windows and off the train - many to their deaths.

Those on board said it took the train nearly 20 minutes to come to a halt after the fire broke out and some pulled at emergency cords that weave through the train to notify the conductor.

"We could hear people crying and screaming for help," said Chaudhry Shujaat who had boarded the train just a few hours earlier with his wife and two children.

"I thought we would die. The next car was on fire. We felt so helpless."

Pakistani soldiers and officials examine the train following the fatal fire. Credit: AP

Ghulam Abbas, a passenger who had gotten on the train in the town of Nawabshah in neighboring Sindh province with his wife and two children, recounted watching panicked passengers jumping off.

"We learned afterward that most of them had died," he said.

His wife, Sulai Khan Bibi, said she was horrified what would happen to their two small children.

"We were so close to death, but Allah saved us," she said, clutching her children.

The massive fire engulfed three carriages of the train. Credit: AP

Pakistan's prime minister Imran Khan has expressed deep sorrow over the "terrible tragedy".

Khan took to Twitter to express his condolences to the families of the victims and say he's praying for the speedy recovery of the injured.

The prime minister also ordered an urgent investigation into the incident.

Poor passengers often bring their own small gas stoves on the trains to cook their meals, despite rules to the contrary, according to Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.

Safety regulations are often ignored in the overcrowded trains.

Through the morning hours, rescue workers and inspectors sifted through the charred wreckage, looking for survivors and aiding the injured.

Railway official Shabir Ahmed said bodies of passengers were scattered over a 2 kilometre wide area around the site.

Rescue workers look for survivors following the train fire. Credit: AP

People from nearby villages rushed to the train, carrying buckets of water and shovels to help douse the flames.

"But it was impossible," Ahmed said.

Authorities said they were still trying to identify the victims and the lists of fatalities and those injured were not available yet.

Another train has been dispatched to bring the survivors to the city of Rawalpindi, they said.

Yasmin Rashid, a provincial minister in the Punjab, told reporters the medical staff were providing the best possible treatment for the injured at a hospital in Liaquatpur.

At least 71 passengers have died in the train fire. Credit: AP

Those critically injured will be taken ambulances to the city of Multan, the largest city nearest to the site of the accident.

The train was on its way from the southern port city of Karachi, the capital of southern Sindh province, to the garrison city of Rawalpindi when the blaze erupted, said Ahmed, the deputy commissioner.

Pakistan's military said troops were also participating in the rescue operation.

Train accidents in Pakistan are often the result of poor railway infrastructure and official negligence.

Media reports on Thursday suggest that railways officials did not notice when passengers boarded the train, carrying individual gas stoves.

Pakistani troops were participating in the rescue operation. Credit: AP

In July, a passenger train rammed into a pared freight train at the Walhar Railway Station in the district of Rahim Yar Khan, killing at least 20 people and injuring 74.

A month earlier, a passenger train traveling to the eastern city of Lahore from the port city of Karachi collided with a freight train in the southern city of Hyderabad, killing three people.