At least 70 people are dead after passengers cooking breakfast on a train sparked an inferno that quickly swept through packed carriages.

Pakistani officials said most of the victims died when they jumped off the moving train in a desperate bid to escape the flames, and some of them were on fire.

The blaze erupted when a gas cannister exploded while passengers were cooking food using equipment brought on board for the long-haul journey.

Horrifying footage showed carriages engulfed in flames as some survivors wailed and witnesses looked on in horror.

Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told Geo television: “Two cooking stoves blew up. They were cooking, they had [cooking] oil which added fuel to fire.”

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Most deaths occurred from people jumping off the train to escape the blaze, he added.

Jameel Ahmad, deputy commissioner of the district, told Reuters that some victims were burned beyond recognition, adding DNA tests would be needed to identify them.

Nearly 40 people were injured, many with serious burns, he said.

The fire destroyed three of the train’s carriages and was burning out of control as the train hurtled along the tracks and then finally came to a stop.

The train was on its way from the southern city of Karachi to Rawalpindi, with many people going to a religious conference, according to officials.

Officials said the blaze was caused by cooking equipment, but several survivors claimed they believed the cause was a short-circuit in the train’s electrical system, Reuters reported.

Army troops, paramedics, and an army aviation helicopter were at the scene.

Prime Minister Imran Khan offered his condolences and ordered an immediate inquiry into the tragedy which happened near the town of Rahim Yar Khan in Punjab province.

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He tweeted: “Deeply saddened by the terrible tragedy of the Tezgam train.

“My condolences go to the victims’ families & prayers for the speedy recovery of the injured.

“I have ordered an immediate inquiry to be completed on an urgent basis.”

Baqir Husain, the head of the district rescue service, said the death toll could rise.

Gas cannisters are banned on trains, but people sneaking stoves onto carriages in order to prepare meals on long journeys is a common problem, the minister said. 

Many of the passengers were heading to a conference organised by the Tablighi Jamaat Sunni Muslim missionary movement, he added.

Footage showed fire and black smoke pouring from the train’s windows after it came to a stop on a stretch of line flanked by fields.

“People were jumping off, some of them were on fire,” a witness told Geo.

At least three people survived by jumping out of the train, according to local reports.

Other survivors in a critical condition have been transferred to Bahawal Victoria Hospital in Bahawalpur.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement: “Pakistan Army soldiers are working with the civil administration to help with the operation.

“An army aviation helicopter has reached the scene of the incident,” the statement added.

Pakistan’s colonial-era railway network has fallen into disrepair in recent decades due to chronic under-investment and poor maintenance.

Eleven people were killed in an accident in July and four in another accident in September.

About 130 people were killed in 2005 when a train rammed into another at a station in Sindh province, and a third train hit the wreckage.