A French railway official has said that a faulty rail joint may have caused the train crash near Paris that claimed at least six lives. The French transportation minister had ruled out human error earlier Saturday.
On Saturday, Pierre Izard, SNCF's general manager reponsible for infrastructure, told reporters that investigators had found that the joint had moved from its normal position. However, officials also found that another train had traveled through the station without incident just before the wreck, and a further investigation would be carried out to determine why the joint may have malfunctioned when it did.
Earlier on Saturday, Transportation Minister Frederic Cuvillier virtually ruled out human error in the disaster and praised the train's driver, who sent out an alert that halted all train traffic in the area.
"Fortunately the locomotive driver had absolutely extraordinary reflexes by sending the alert immediately, which avoided a collision with a train that was coming the other way and just a few seconds later would have smashed into the cars that were derailing." Cuvillier told France Info radio. "So it's not a human problem."
The Interior Ministry put the death toll from Friday evening's train crash at six, with 30 people still listed as injured, eight gravely. In total, officials said more than 200 people had received medical or psychological assistance. French media reported that the intercity train - on its way from Paris to the central city of Limoges - had become derailed at Bretigny-sur-Orge, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Paris.
Cuvillier told French television station BFM that work to right the overturned train cars could take a "very long time (because) the carriages are very intertwined."
President Francois Hollande has also called for a thorough investigation to be carried out.
"We should avoid unnecessary speculation," Hollande told reporters when he visited the site of the crash late on Friday. "What happened will eventually be known and the proper conclusions will be drawn."
The French train operator SNCF said that 385 passengers had been aboard the train when it came off the tracks at about 5:15 p.m. local time (1515 GMT). The Interior Ministry said that the train had approached the railway station at high speed, before being separated into two parts for an unknown reason. Cuvillier said the train had clocked in at 137 kilometers per hour (85 mph) at the time of the crash.
"I am dismayed by the news from France of the terrible train accident in Bretigny-sur-Orge," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement. "Our deepest sympathy is with the victims and their families. I wish the many injured a speedy recovery."
A photo posted on the microblogging web site Twitter showed a train carriage completely off the rails and smashed against the platform. A passenger who had been aboard the train told BFM that there had been a series of shocks and that the train had filled with smoke.
"We were violently shaken," the passenger said. "We were clinging to our seats. It must have lasted 15 seconds."
The accident occurred as many in France were departing for the start of their summer vacations, just ahead of Bastille Day on Sunday.
mkg/pfd (AFP, AP)