Islamabad, Pakistan – At least 73 people were killed and 48 others injured after a fire engulfed a train travelling through central Pakistan, completely destroying at least three coaches, officials said.
The accident took place near the town of Liaquatpur, about 150 kilometres (93 miles) south of the city of Multan on Thursday morning, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told Al Jazeera by telephone.
The train was carrying passengers from the southern city of Karachi to Rawalpindi.
“The injured have been taken to the hospital, but unfortunately there is no nearby hospital [with a burn unit] so we are trying to get them by helicopter to Multan,” Ahmed said.
The two affected coaches were “overcrowded”, he added. Each coach typically holds about 70 passengers.
The fire occurred when passengers used a portable gas-powered stove to prepare breakfast.
Gurmukh Ram, a hospital official in Liaquatpur, where the accident occurred, confirmed the death toll and said 58 of the bodies were so badly burned that “no identification was possible”.
“They have been sent to Sheikh Zayed hospital in Rahim Yar Khan [about 85km south] for DNA testing,” he said.
Seven of the wounded were airlifted to the city of Multan, roughly 150km north, for treatment at specialised burns unit there, he said. Many of the injured were in critical condition.
“One of the stoves exploded, causing the fire and the other one exploded with it,” said Faisal Niaz, an official with the minister’s office.
Ahmed said firefighters had completed their work at the site of the blaze.
“Rail service has been resumed on the tracks and rescue work is completed,” he said. “The fire is under control.”
Pakistan’s ageing railway system is still based in many areas on colonial-era infrastructure, and accidents have been a frequent occurrence in recent years.
Security on intercity rail transport is also laxer than other forms of transport.
“A tragedy that could have been avoided but ever since I can recall while travelling by train no baggage check or restrictions enforced,” said Pakistani Minister of Human Right Shireen Mazari following the accident.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan: @AsadHashim