Maintenance work may hold key to fatal train derailment

Brétigny-sur-Orge station after the fatal accident
Brétigny-sur-Orge station after the fatal accident SNCF

Recent maintenance work carried out on train tracks near the fatal train derailment south of Paris may hold the keys to the cause of the disaster.


The French rail company SNCF said a “fishplate” or joint bar that bolted two rails together became detached and came off its housing. The 10-kilogram piece of steel was part of a switch track 200 metres from Brétigny-sur-Orge station, where the train overturned.

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A "fishplate", similar to one that came off and may have caused the accident at Brétigny-sur-Orge station. SNCF

It is not clear what caused the plate to come off. SNCF said the switch track underwent a routine check on 4th July. Another train went over the switch normally 30 minutes before the disaster, it said.

Claude Azam, the head of the Office for ground transport accident investigations (BEA-TT), told AFP: “the fishplate is screwed on. If it moved, it means it came off the screws. It could be linked to vibrations from another passing train; to the re-screwing of the plate; there could be a broken piece...”.

He added that investigators will examine the state of the track, track maintenance and the train.

Officials carried out maintenance work on a switch track at the station last month, but SNCF said on Friday it was not on the same track as the one where the train derailed.

In a video posted on SNCF Transilien’s youtube channel, the superintendent of the south-west Francilien line, Renaud Gelle, said a routine check on 24th May revealed there was significant damage to the switch track. The switch track was replaced at the end of June, and normal traffic resumed on 1st July.

The French Transport Minister, Frédéric Cuvillier, has expressed concerns about “the degradation” of rail tracks across the entire network over the past few years.

Below: an SNCF video explaining track work at Brétigny-sur-Orge last month (in French). SNCF said this switch track was not on the same track where the train derailed.

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