Death toll in train collision less than first feared

11th October 2006, Comments 0 comments

ZOUFFTGEN, France, Oct 11, 2006 (AFP) - A passenger train from Luxembourg ploughed into a goods train in a head-on collision in northeast France Wednesday, killing at least five people and injuring many more, railway and government officials said.

ZOUFFTGEN, France, Oct 11, 2006 (AFP) - A passenger train from Luxembourg ploughed into a goods train in a head-on collision in northeast France Wednesday, killing at least five people and injuring many more, railway and government officials said.

The crash — apparently caused by a signalling error — took place late morning at the village of Zoufftgen, a mile (1.6 kilometres) south of the Luxembourg border, on a section of track that was undergoing maintenance work.

The prefecture — or governor's office — of the Moselle department confirmed five dead and five injured, but said several people were trapped inside the wreckage, "which means the toll could evolve".

Earlier a spokesman at the crisis unit set up by state-owned SNCF rail company put the toll at 12: nine people on the passenger train, the drivers of both trains and a person working on the track.  At least 21 were injured, some seriously, he said.

The force of the impact caused the locomotive of the freight train to mount the front of the passenger train, projecting several wagons into woods along the side of the track.

More than 250 emergency workers from France and Luxembourg were at the scene by early afternoon. Rescuers used specialised equipment to cut the injured from the wreckage, as a helicopter shuttled victims to hospital.

"It's apocalyptic. There's a mess of steel and tangled metal, with wagons up-ended and pointing into the sky," said Bertrand Mertz, vice-president of the Lorraine regional council.

 Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who was en route to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, ordered his plane to return to France in order to visit the crash site.

"We wanted to come to the scene in order to express the solidarity of our two countries," Villepin said alongside Luxembourg's prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker.

President Jacques Chirac issued a statement to express his condolences to the bereaved.

The two trains were a double-decker Luxembourg regional express train travelling south to the French city of Nancy, and a freight train heading north into Luxembourg. Around 20 passengers were on the France-bound train, a Luxembourg police spokesman said.

"As a result of the work only one track was open instead of two, and trains were supposed to wait their turn to go on it. For reasons that are not clear, these two trains came together head-to-head," an SNCF spokesman said.

Guillaume Pepy, SNCF executive director, said the French freight train was the first onto the section of track, and that its driver had not broken a red light.

Earlier Mertz told France 3 television that railway signallers in Luxembourg were to blame. A spokesman for Luxembourg railways refused to comment.

Two investigations were been opened, one at SNCF and one by the state Bureau of Accident Investigation.

France's last serious rail accident was in 2002 when 12 died in a fire on a night train near Nancy.  In 1997, 13 were killed in a collision between a train and an oil tanker on a level crossing in the southwestern Dordogne department.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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