‘Human error’ did not cause French rail crash

Transport minister praises train driver and says about 30 still injured after incident

Injured persons get medical assistance next to the scene of an intercity train accident at the Bretigny-sur-Orge train station near Paris. Photograph: Benoit Tessier/Reuters.

Injured persons get medical assistance next to the scene of an intercity train accident at the Bretigny-sur-Orge train station near Paris. Photograph: Benoit Tessier/Reuters.

Sat, Jul 13, 2013, 14:17

France’s transport minister said human error did not cause a train derailment outside Paris that left six dead yesterday.

Frederic Cuvillier said that about 30 people were still being treated for injuries. In all, nearly 200 people sustained injuries in the initial incident, when four train cars slid toward the station, some falling over.

The crash was France’s deadliest in years, but Mr Cuvillier said it could have been worse and praised the driver who sent out an alert quickly, preventing a pile up.

Mr Cuvillier said it was unclear what did cause the crash, but authorities are looking into an error in the switching system as well as other possibilities.

This is one of the busiest travel weekends in France, which is celebrating the national holiday of Bastille Day on Sunday.

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.

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.”