, PARIS, July 13, 2013 (AFP) – A train derailment near Paris that killed six people was caused by a fault in the tracks, France’s state rail company said on Saturday, as the transport minister urged upgrades to aging regional lines.
The SNCF said the derailment on Friday, which also left dozens injured, was caused by a connecting bar that had come loose at a rail switch at the station at Bretigny-sur-Orge, about 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of Paris.
The joint bar “broke away, it became detached and came out of its housing,” said Pierre Izard, the SNCF’s general manager for infrastructure.
It “lodged itself at the centre of the switch, prevented the normal progression of the train’s wheels and seems to have caused the train’s derailment,” he said.
The company said the switch had been checked on July 4 and that it was immediately ordering checks of some 5,000 similar joints on its network.
“We have decided to check equipment of this nature on the entire network and are starting now,” SNCF chief Guillaume Pepy said.
Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said human error was not to blame for the accident, praising the train’s driver who he said “had absolutely extraordinary reflexes by sending the alert immediately”, preventing a collision with an oncoming train.
But he said France’s regional rail lines were out of date, after the SNCF focused much of its attention in recent years on high speed TGV lines.
“We cannot be satisfied with rolling stock that is 30 years old,” Cuvillier said, adding: “The situation is severe, with the deterioration in recent years of traditional lines because of a lack of resources.”
A railway passenger association also denounced what it called “rust bucket trains” and the practice of coupling different types of trains together, demanding proper inspections.
A minute of silence was held at noon (1000 GMT) Saturday on all French trains and in all stations for the victims of the accident, which took place as many were leaving for summer holidays ahead of the Bastille Day holiday on Sunday.