Four children escaped serious harm in fatal French TGV test: probe

16th November 2015, Comments 0 comments

Four children escaped serious injury when a high-speed train derailed during a test run at the weekend in northeastern France, killing 11, prosecutors said Monday.

The dead were among 53 aboard the doomed train on Saturday of whom 42 were injured including children aged between 10 and 15, local deputy prosecutor Alexandre Chevrier told a press briefing.

"This toll is unfortunately not final, since there are four people whose lives are still in danger," Chevrier said. "Luckily (the children) were only slightly injured."

The investigation will determine why guests were allowed on board for the test run, he added.

The spectacular accident saw the next-generation TGV (train a grande vitesse, or high-speed train) strike a bridge before jumping the track and breaking in two, landing partially in a canal in the town of Eckwersheim, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Strasbourg.

The head of the French rail company SNCF, Guillaume Pepy, said such an accident "obviously" could not have taken place during a passenger journey when automatic safety mechanisms would have been triggered.

These mechanisms -- which are deactivated during tests -- respond to abnormal speeds, vibrations, temperatures, and so on, Pepy said Sunday.

During tests, trains are pushed beyond their normal limits to check that they are well within safety margins, he added.

It was the first fatal accident for France's flagship train service since it went into service in 1981.

Officially, 49 technicians and railwaymen were assigned to test the new TGV, which was due to go into service next spring.

Chevrier described the driver of the train, who suffered only minor injuries, as "very experienced" and said he had told investigators that he had kept strictly to the designated speed for the part of the track he was on -- 176 kilometres per hour (109 mph).

A source close to the inquiry said Saturday that the train was travelling at around twice that speed, 350 kph, when it derailed.

Investigators will be able to establish the exact speed by analysing the train's black box data storage units, which were recovered apparently intact, Chevrier said.

Pepy said SNCF would assume full responsibility for "all the victims... whether it's railwaymen or guests".

He said the company did not approve of having guests on test runs.

The probe into "involuntary homicide and injury" has not ruled out sabotage or an attack as possible causes of the accident, which occurred the day after the deadly jihadist attacks on Paris, but they were considered unlikely.

While there have been derailments of French TGV trains in the past, Saturday's was the first to claim lives.

The new trains are designed to speed up the journeys between Paris and eastern France, eventually extending to Luxembourg.

But it is now "reasonable to assume" that the high-speed Paris-Strasbourg line would not be opened next April as planned, SNCF board member Jacques Rapoport said.

© 2015 AFP

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