At least six dead and 22 injured after train derails near Paris

Railway cars fell on their sides, crushing waiting passengers on the platform


At least six people were killed and 22 critically injured in the worst French train wreck in 25 years. The French interior ministry said the toll was likely to rise.

The Paris-Limoges train derailed as it sped through Bretigny-sur-Orge, 27.5km south of Paris, at 5.14pm yesterday. The train was not supposed to stop in Bretigny, a station on the suburban RER line.

Railroad sources said it was strange that the lead cars were not affected, while cars three and four fell flat on their sides, crushing waiting passengers on the platform. The last four cars of the train were cut off and thrown hundreds of metres. Television footage showed twisted tracks and rescue workers attempting to cut their way through wreckage.

Witnesses recounted a deafening sound at the moment of the derailment. Survivors said the train vibrated and swung from side to side as suitcases flew through the air. “I was reading,” a passenger told France 2 television. “The train started shaking as if it were rolling over pebbles; like a plane in turbulence.”

A high voltage line was reported to be lying on the ground, and it was feared that some victims were electrocuted or severely burned. Some 200 medical workers and eight helicopters sought out the wounded and ferried them from the site.

Switching error
Excessive speed was the suspected cause, but a switching error, ageing infrastructure, recent work on the line and sabotage were other possibilities.

In Limoges, where the train from the Gare d’Austerlitz was to have arrived just before 8pm, the friends and families of passengers were led to a “psychiatric cell”.

Guillaume Pepy, the president of the French national railroad SNCF, choked back tears as he told journalists at the site of the accident that the train carried 385 passengers.

President François Hollande spoke to the wounded in the makeshift camp inside the station, calling for solidarity with the victims. Mr Hollande said three investigations had been launched, by the SNCF and the interior and transport ministries.

Mr Hollande described the inside of the station as “a dreadful scene, awful”. Survivors told him the train underwent a “shock”. “We have yet to learn the nature of the shock,” the president said. “There was no work on the line in recent days. Let us avoid unnecessary speculation.”

All hospitals in the Paris Île de France region, and all emergency ambulance teams were placed on alert. The nearest hospital, at Corbeil-Essonnes, transferred 100 patients as a precaution, to make way for the wounded.

The accident occurred at rush hour at the beginning of the Bastille Day holiday weekend. All traffic between Paris and Limoges was cancelled, affecting some 20,000 passengers. On a normal holiday weekend, a train leaves the Gare d’Austerlitz every three minutes. Mr Hollande said there would be no traffic through Bretigny for three days.

The railway disaster was the worst since June 1988, when a train from the suburbs crashed into a parked train beneath the Gare de Lyon, killing 56 people.