Nine passengers killed as they slept as fire engulfs Indian train in Maharashtra

Tragedy on sleeper train is second deadly blaze to hit Indian railway network in two weeks

At least nine people were killed as they slept this morning when a fire tore through an Indian train.

Flames and smoke engulfed passengers just before dawn in Maharashtra, hours after the sleeper train left Mumbai on its two-day journey to the Himalayan foothills.

It was the second deadly fire on the Indian railway network in just two weeks, after 26 people died on a train in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh on 28 December.

Officials have not determined the cause of the blaze, which spread through three coaches before it was noticed by a guard.

Television channels broadcast images of flames leaping out of the windows and lapping at the outside of the train.

“The fire was reported by an official at a railway station and subsequently the train was stopped and most of the passengers were evacuated,” Sharat Chandrayan, Western Railways spokesperson, told the CNN-IBN news channel.

“We cannot speculate about what caused the fire. An eyewitness told us that the fire started from a coach but those details are yet to be verified and inquired.”

Passengers and train staff tried to use fire extinguishers to douse the fire but evacuated when it did not subside.

Firefighters finally put it out further along the track in the town of Gholvad and the incinerated carriages were detached from the rest of the train so it could continue its journey.

The railway ministry has promised around £5,000 in compensation to the families of those killed on the Mumbai-Dehradun Express.

An electrical fault was blamed for another fire that killed 47 people in July on a passenger train travelling in Andhra Pradesh.

Fires were involved in at least eight of the 100 or so accidents that killed 185 people in 2012, according to a 2013 safety review submitted to Parliament.

The state-owned Indian railway system is one of the largest in the world, carrying more than 18 million people every day across the 40,000 mile network.

But accidents are common and often blamed on poor maintenance and old tracks that date back more than 150 years in places.

Additional reporting by Associated Press