More killed and injured in train-school bus crash

3rd June 2008, Comments 0 comments

Seven children were killed and 25 people injured, reveals latest toll by the local prefecture.

3 June 2008

ALLINGES - Seven children were killed and 25 people injured Monday when a train ploughed into a packed school bus on a level crossing in the French Alps, local officials said.

The passenger train, linking Evian-les-Bains and Geneva, struck the bus that was carrying 50 pupils and six adults at around 2:00 p.m. (1200 GMT) in the village of Mesinges near the town of Allinges.

The 12- to 13-year-olds, from a local school in Margencel, were on a history outing to the medieval village of Yvoire near the Swiss border, according to the local prefecture.

According to the latest toll by the local prefecture, seven children died in the crash, with three people seriously injured and 22 others slightly injured. Several train passengers were among those hurt.

The train and bus drivers were unhurt but "extremely shocked," the local gendarmerie said. Both have been questioned by police.

Speaking to reporters at the site, Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said two investigations, one judicial and one administrative, had been opened to determine the reasons for the crash.

Police experts worked through the night gathering evidence.

A driver who claimed she witnessed the accident said the bus "moved onto a level crossing as the barriers were closing. The red lights were already lit and the bus drove forward anyway."

"It got trapped by the barriers and the train sliced it in two. I saw it all," she told local radio station France-Bleu Pays de Savoie.

Both the French state rail operator SNCF and Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said the level crossing, equipped with two barriers and automatic signal lights, was apparently functioning normally at the time.

SNCF chairman Guillaume Pepy, who also travelled to the scene, said the train was travelling at normal speed, around 90 kilometres per hour.

President Nicolas Sarkozy broke away for a moment from a speech on education at the Elysee Palace to ask his audience to spare "a thought for the victims of this very serious accident."

"All of us are thinking of the children, the adults, the victims whoever they are," the president said. "We can only hope there will be as few victims as possible."

Sarkozy's office said later Monday that he would go to Allinges on Tuesday morning before proceeding as scheduled to a UN food summit in Rome.

Local authorities set up a crisis cell to provide on-site medical assistance and counselling for victims and their relatives, the prefecture said.

Education Minister Xavier Darcos spoke with families of the victims to express his "saddest condolences," his ministry said. He called for full light to be shed on the crash, after talks with the school principal.

Speaking on an internet talk show, Prime Minister Francois Fillon suggested the bus driver was at least partly to blame.

"Undoubtedly, there is a problem of driver responsibility," he said.

He called for an "additional effort" to cut the number of level crossings in the country, and to boost security and driver training for school transport.

French rail infrastructure owner RFF has been gradually phasing out France's level crossings - involved in one percent of all road accidents in the country - starting with those considered most dangerous.

But the SNCF's Pepy said the crossing in question was not one seen as a problem.

SNCF said that records from control screens at the level crossing, which was remotely monitored, "show that everything appears to have worked normally up until the accident," a spokeswoman said.

Monday's crash was the most serious school bus accident in France since 1982, when a deadly collision in the eastern town of Beaune left 53 people dead including 44 children.

It comes months after a similar accident in eastern France when a high-speed TGV train linking Paris and Geneva collided with a truck on a level crossing, killing the truck driver and injuring 35 rail passengers.

[AFP / Expatica]

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