Bretigny accident courtesy of SNCF

Six killed in French train crash

Published 24th July 2013

Track faults cause rail accidents in France and the UK

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has issued a report on the freight train derailment at Shrewsbury on July 7 last year. This happened at around 1413hrs when the leading bogie (set of wheels) of the 16th wagon in a freight train derailed as it negotiated a set of points travelling at 14 mph but the good news is that there were no injuries. The bogie carried on for 65 metres causing significant track damage before the train was stopped by the brakes becoming automatically engaged.

RAIB reports that following its investigation, the prime cause of the derailment was that the points were unsafe due to wear and damage and that their condition had degraded since the last detailed inspection. This had not been attended to by track teams but possibly even worse was that the poor condition was not even noticed by the Network Rail (NR) inspection regime.

Inconsistent inspections

This regime was inconsistent with the NR risk-based approach which aims to prevent derailments on points. The local maintenance team had misinterpreted the intent of this standard from when it was modified five years ago and stopped carrying out regular correct detailed inspections of the points.

RAIB made four recommendations which means that NR will rebrief the risk-based approach all delivery units, including at Shrewsbury. NR will also rewrite their Standards to incorporate the RAIB’s findings.

RAIB also issued a ‘learning point’ and emphasised the importance of providing training and assessment modules when requiring specific competences in standards covering safety critical activities.

French fatal crash near Paris – more track faults

The cause of the dreadful railway accident in France seems to have been established French Railways train operator (SNCF) has said. French railways are run by two companies, their Network Rail is RFF who operate and maintain the infrastructure while SNCF operate the trains.

RFF has confirmed that a loose fishplate is thought to have been the cause of the derailment which killed six passengers and injured over 60 people who were travelling on a Paris to Limoges Intercité express or who were on the platforms at Brétigny-sur-Orge station on July 12.

The train was the 16.53 departure from Paris Austerlitz and had 385 passengers on the seven coache loco-hauled train. The platforms at Brétigny station, which are served by the RER Line C, was crowded with evening commuters as the train derailed travelling at about 80mph 21 minutes after departure. There were ore passengers that evening as it was the evening before the annual national Bastille Day holiday.

As is normal with rail accidents anywhere, it is the combination of several factors that combine to break the safety chain which exists on railways. This time it appears that a fishplate, which bolts the rail sections together had worked loose. These fishplates are bolted through two rail ends and should be checked on a regular basis.

Rail investigators found a loose fishplate which was supposed to be bolted to a rail and the end of a point crossing 200 metres in advance of the station which had become wedged between the crossing nose. This was hit by the wheels and the train split into two between the fourth and fifth coaches and the rear carriages careering around the station and ending up across the rails and a crowded platform.

Train technicians could not find any irregularities with the train apart from impact damage on the brake disc on the rear axle of the third coach which they said was consistent with the hypothesis of it having hit the fishplate. The locomotive was also fault free as were the previous two trains that had just used the same junction and human error was also ruled out by traincrew and signallers.

The French rail authorities are now examining 5000 similar points and crossings for faulty maintenance in the same fashion as Railtrack did after the Hatfield accident over a decade ago. There will also be a close monitoring undertaken for the immediate future.

It has now got political in France after recent announcements that the French TGV network would not be expanded due to cost worries and the rising level of railway debt. Combined with comments by the French President Hollande about the state of the non TGV routes. On French television he praised the train’s driver who raised the alarm quickly and may have prevented other trains from colliding with the wreckage.

The two French rail organisations, RFF and SNCF, have said that annual expenditure on maintenance had gone from €3bn six years ago to €4•8bn last year and this had been audited by the École Polytechnique de Lausanne. On the actual route affected by the accident, €460m had been budgeted for maintenance work on the Paris - Orléans - Limoges - Toulouse route in the next three years.

Train services are now returning to normality after the repairs and inspections - just in time for the holiday period.

Written by Phil Marsh

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