July 30, 2012: Nellore Train Fire Burns 32 To Death

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A Brief History

On July 30, 2012, the Tamil Nadu Express train caught fire as passengers lay sleeping at 4:22 am, roasting 32 of them and injuring another 27. Only quick action by a railroad emergency crew prevented further carnage when the flaming sleeping car was detached from the other cars. Some died leaping from the moving train, some died trying to leave through the forward exit, and some died asleep in their beds.

Digging Deeper

The S-11 sleeping car carried 78 passengers that morning, bound from New Delhi to Chennai. Of those passengers, 72 had reservations to be on the car, and another 6 or so did not have appropriate tickets. Further carnage was averted when an alert gateman at Nellore noticed the sleeping car smoking as it passed through the station. The engineer was contacted and immediately started stopping the train, which by now had a blazing sleeping car among its cars. About 25 of the survivors lived by managing to escape the flaming car through the rear exit, while another 10 passengers lived by virtue of leaping from the train, which had been traveling about 43 mph before the engineer started braking.

Grand Trunk Express and Tamil Nadu Express (NDLS-MAS) Route map

Authorities investigating the deadly fire said the most likely cause was an electrical short, but the incredibly fast spreading of the flames led others to believe sabotage or terrorism may have been involved. Some passengers on the ill-fated coach claimed to have heard some sort of explosion prior to noticing the flames.

The local emergency crew responded virtually as soon as the train had stopped, separating the burning car from the rest of the train and averting the spreading of the flames. The Indian government paid each family of the fatal victims less than $10,000 apiece!

Tamil Nadu Express sleeper coach

The Tamil Nadu Express had been no stranger to accidents, and the high speed travel of the train had been seriously scaled back in 1981 after a derailment that killed 15 passengers. Considered in the class of “Superfast” trains in India, that designation really refers more to the express nature of the train, making no intermediate stops between origin and destination, with an average speed of at least 34 mph or more. Does this train make you wonder what would constitute a “Superslow” train in India? We wonder!

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Bibel, George. Train Wreck. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012.

Stursberg, Dirk. Trains of the World # 2: India (Volume 2). CreateSpace, 2015.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.