France

Hollande promises rail investment following deadly derailment

A crane has been brought in to remove overturned train carriages at Brétigny-sur-Orge station.
A crane has been brought in to remove overturned train carriages at Brétigny-sur-Orge station. Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

The French President, François Hollande, has promised more investment in France’s ageing regional rail network after six people died in a deadly derailment on Friday. As the investigation begins, questions are being asked about the level of investment in rail infrastructure.

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Speaking at a traditional televised interview following a military parade in the centre of Paris to celebrate Bastille Day, Hollande said the accident highlighted equipment failure on the network.

“The first conclusion we can make is to prioritise investment on classic lines, the intercity [network],” he said. “We need to do a lot more to maintain the existing classic lines.”

Sixteen people remain in hospital after the intercity train from Paris to Limoges derailed and crashed at Brétigny-sur-Orge south of the capital. The rail operator SNCF said a loose “fishplate” or joint bar between two rails detached and blocked a switch track, causing it to fail.

A 700-tonne crane has started removing the wreckage from the train station.

• Four men and two women between 19 and 82 years old died.

• Nine people seriously injured.

• SNCF officials believe a faulty fishplate joining two tracks near a switch track became detached and may have caused the accident.

• SNCF has ordered checks on 5,000 similar fishplates across the network.

• In May and June, SNCF carried out maintenance work on a switch track at Brétigny-sur-Orge but SNCF said it was not on the same track as the one where the train derailed.

• There will be three investigations: a judicial investigation, one by the SNCF, and a third by the Transport Ministry.

Questions are already being asked about the state of France’s regional train network. While the high-speed TGV network is France’s pride and joy, the Transport Minister, Frédéric Cuvillier, conceded on Saturday that traditional rail infrastructure has been degrading over the past few years.

Willy Colin, a spokesman for the Association of rail commuters (Avuc), accused authorities of prioritising the TGV network to the detriment of regional trains.

“It was a known problem. Even the CEO of SNCF, Guillaume Pepy, acknowledged it when he published a list of the most dilapidated train lines back in January 2011, and the tracks this Intercity was on are part of this list. So the question we are asking now is: what has happened since January 2011? Were any repairs made?”

“Also, it’s on these tracks that the most dilapidated trains are running. Because of how it was designed, the risk for an Intercity to derail is much higher than for a TGV,” he added.

In 2012, an audit by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne found that 10 to 20 percent of France’s rail lines have passed their use-by date. The company in charge of rail infrastructure, Réseau ferré de France (RFF), estimated in 2005 that the average age of the major rail lines is around 20 years old. RFF has spent more than two billion euros since 2011 on upgrades.

Under pressure from consumer groups and unions, the French Prime Minister, Jean-marc Ayrault, announced last week that investment in the TGV network will be pushed back to 2030, with the focus switching instead to modernising existing lines.

Five hundred million euros will be spent between 2015 and 2025 to upgrade the ageing intercity rail stock.

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