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Loose rail connector ’caused France train crash’

13 Jul

The train and station were busy for the start of a holiday weekend

The train crash south of Paris which left six people dead was caused by a fault in the rail tracks, says the state rail company.

SNCF said a metal bar connecting two rails had become detached close to Bretigny-sur-Orge station.

Earlier, Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier ruled out human error and praised the train driver for averting a worse accident.

Thirty people were injured in the accident, eight of them seriously.

The train had just left Paris on Friday afternoon and was heading for Limoges when it derailed at Bretigny-sur-Orge.

Giving its initial findings, SNCF management told reporters the connector had worked its way loose and become detached at points 200m from Bretigny station causing the train to derail.

The inquiry is now expected to focus on how the piece of metal had become detached, and checks on these components are to be carried out on the whole of the network.

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Scene of train crash south of Paris, 13 July 2013French rail company SNCF says that a piece of metal connecting two rails outside Bretigny-sur-Orge station caused the train to leave the tracks.
‘Extraordinary reflexes’

Six carriages derailed as the train passed through the station at 137km/h (85mph). The train’s third and fourth carriages derailed first and the others followed. One mounted the station platform in the accident which happened at 17:14 (15:14 GMT).

On a tree-lined residential street in a quiet suburb just south of the capital, women in their sandals carry plastic grocery bags, bulging with thick, fresh French baguettes.

Today they have to manoeuvre around reporters, TV satellite tracks and police security barriers. France’s worst rail disaster for a quarter of a century struck at the top of their street

The quiet hum of generators blurs with summer bird song. If it weren’t for the emergency haulage trucks, staffed by men in orange and yellow vests, and the odd burst of a siren, it might be difficult to believe that such a devastating event happened here just yesterday.

Blue cranes keep heaving chunks of crushed and curled metal off the tracks. Police watch, arms crossed. Hanging baskets shudder in the breeze.

Aside from SNCF, investigations are being conducted by judicial authorities and France’s BEA safety agency.

Speaking on RTL radio, Mr Cuvillier said the train driver had reacted quickly to the accident: “Fortunately, the driver of the locomotive had absolutely extraordinary reflexes in that he sounded the alarm immediately, preventing a collision with another train coming in the opposite direction and which would have hit the derailing carriages within seconds. So it is not a human problem.”

French transport routes were particularly busy at the time of the crash due to the run-up to a holiday weekend marking Sunday’s Bastille Day. SNCF said 385 passengers were on board when the train crashed. The station platforms were crowded.

British student Marvin Khareem Wone was on a train on another platform when the carriages of the intercity ploughed into the station.

“The train went off the railway; it just went on the platform and kind of flew in the air for a second and went upside down,” he told the BBC.

“The first and the second coach were completely destroyed. I really thought no-one could survive that because it was completely mashed up. Everyone was crying and running everywhere. A woman was crying for her daughter who was still on the train.”


French media comments

Francois Sergent in Liberation calls the accident a “a national tragedy” that “touches the hearts of all French people. All of us have been, at one time or another, passengers on the French rail network.”

Bertille Bayart in Le Figaro says the accident, which comes days after the government announced investments in the railways, will spark controversy over infrastructure that is “characterised by ‘serious degradation’, in the words of the transport minister”.

Olivier Razemon in Le Monde contends that the crash “must not eclipse the fact that railways remain one of the least_68707956_68707955 dangerous means of transport in the world, in terms of deaths per kilometres or hour travelled”.

Transport expert Alain Bonnafous on Atlanticowebsite says it is impossible at this stage to know what caused the accident, but vandalism is always a possibility. “But few like to talk about it because it is so easy to disrupt the network,” he adds.

Because of the damage to the station, he said ambulances could not reach the platform and the lift was not working.

Other media reports spoke of passengers being electrocuted and crushed.

“I saw many wounded women children trapped inside,” Vianey Kalisa, who was waiting for his train from Bretigny to Paris, told AFP.

“People were screaming. A man had blood on his face. These are images of war,” he said.

Many people feel it was lucky that the accident was not a lot worse, given the violence of the impact and the fact that a packed train ploughed onto the platform at peak time, says the BBC’s Hugh Schofield in Paris.

Local media said a group of people had attempted to steal from the victims and rescuers shortly after the crash and threw stones at emergency workers as they tried to reach passengers.

Journalist Olivier Ravanello was one of the first at the scene of the crash

However later Mr Cuvilier said there had only been “isolated acts”, including an attempt to steal a mobile phone – although small groups had given the rescuers a “somewhat rough welcome”.

Local socialist MP Jerome Guedj tweeted that it was necessary “not to play things down (…) but not to exaggerate anything either”.