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FRANCE'S national rail company, SNCF, came under attack yesterday for running a "sick" network after a loose piece of metal was blamed for the country's worst train crash in a quarter of a century.
Rail stations throughout the country observed a minute of silence for the six people killed when a crowded passenger train from Paris to Limoges came off the tracks as it went through a station 25km south of the capital on Saturday (AEST).
Dozens of passengers among the 385 people on board were hurt, nine seriously. A crane was deployed at the crash site yesterday to lift overturned carriages amid concern that other victims might be inside.
A senior SNCF official said the crash happened after a metal bar that linked two rails in the points near the station had become disconnected. This had prevented "the normal passage of the wheels of the train".
The inter-city train, not one of France's high-speed TGV services, veered off the track at 140km/h as it entered Bretigny-sur-Orge station, where it was not scheduled to stop. Carriages smashed into each other, some were overturned and one crashed on to the platform.
The driver was praised for having narrowly averted an even greater catastrophe by triggering an alert.
"His absolutely extraordinary reflexes avoided a collision with a train that was coming in the opposite direction and would have hit the derailed wagons," said Frederic Cuvillier, the Transport Minister.
However, there was criticism of SNCF for neglecting secondary lines in favour of the more prestigious high-speed services for which France is famous.
"The secondary network has been abandoned to the profit of the TGV," said Willy Colin, spokesman for a railway passengers' association. He claimed the accident took place on one of 12 lines the SNCF said in 2011 were in need of attention.
According to one report, the points where the metal bar worked itself free 180m from the station were supposed to have been replaced four years ago.
"The network is worn out on a lot of the lines and this puts human lives at risk," Mr Colin said. "You have to ask yourself if security has not been sacrificed on the altar of profitability."
This article first appeared on www.theaustralian.com.au
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