The French train crash that killed at least six people on Friday afternoon was probably caused by a technical fault involving the track, the railway operator SNCF said.
The piece of metal linking two train lines “broke away” when the accident took place, SNCF Chairman Guillaume Pepy said at a press conference broadcast live on French television. Technical and judicial investigations will focus on this fault at the railway points, Pepy said.
Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier, speaking on BFM TV, ruled out the possibility that human error caused the Intercity train to derail. SNCF will review all the other metal links [approximately 5000] of the same type on its network, Pierre Izard, head of the infrastructures division at the company, said. The authorities brought a crane to the accident site to lift the derailed train cars and check for more victims.
The crash marked the country’s worst rail accident since 2002. Twenty-two of those injured were still hospitalized, said Ghyslain Chatel, the sub-prefect of the department of Essonne, in a phone interview. The local government authority oversees Bretigny-sur-Orge, where the accident took place. Chatel said two of the hospitalized victims have severe injuries.
“There’s an investigation under way to get to the bottom of this accident,” French President Francois Hollande said late yesterday in televised remarks. “There will be all kinds of lessons to be drawn.”
The train, number 3657 to Limoges from Paris, derailed at 5:14 p.m. at Bretigny-sur-Orge, about 28 kilometers (17 miles) outside Paris, SNCF said in a statement on its website. It had 385 passengers and had left the Paris-Austerlitz train station at 4:53 p.m. The train was traveling at 137 kilometers per hour [85.6 mph] when it derailed, Jacques Rapoport, the chairman of RFF, the owner of France’s rail network, said at the press conference.
A spokeswoman for the prefecture of Essonne said that eight hospitals in the region, including six in Essonne and two in Paris, remained on alert.
All trains going to and from Paris-Austerlitz station were canceled until further notice, SNCF said on Twitter today. Pepy said that SNCF will reimburse all ticket holders.
In October 2006, a passenger train from Luxembourg and a French freight train collided in the Lorraine region of northeastern France, killing five people and injuring 20. In November 2002, a fire on a passenger train traveling from Paris to Munich killed 12 passengers and injured 12.
The worst railway accident in France in living memory took place at Paris Gare de Lyon in 1988, when two trains collided, killing 56 people.
Friday’s crash came six days after a train operated by Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd. jumped the tracks at Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The runaway train, which was hauling 72 cars of crude oil, exploded, killing as many as 50 people. Last month, a commuter train crash in Buenos Aires killed three people and injured 155. In May, a Metro-North rush-hour train derailed in Connecticut, injuring at least 75 people.
–Editors: Will Hadfield, Heather Langan