Fears are growing that sabotage or vandalism might have caused the train crash near Paris last Friday in which six people died.
Three of the four bolts fixing a steel plate which jumped out of position to derail the Paris-Limoges express are believed to have broken or come loose – something which is regarded as being almost impossible.
“In the memory of railwaymen, bolts have never given way on their own,” said Didier Aubert, leader of the railway section of the CFDT trades union federation. “A deliberate act of sabotage cannot be excluded.”
Officially, equipment failure is still regarded as the most likely cause of France’s worst railway accident for six years. But union leaders and railway experts say the provisional explanation put forward by the state railway company, the SNCF, is difficult to swallow.
A hefty steel plate joining two sections of rail – a “fishplate” – is believed to have leaped out of position and become wedged in point-work (where tracks criss-cross) at the approach to the station of Brétigny-sur-Orge, 25 miles south of Paris.
The axles of the third and fourth carriages of the crowded express, which was travelling at 80mph, struck the metal plate and the last four carriages derailed. Four people on the station platform and two people on the train were killed.
The track had been checked eight days before the accident. Railway experts say that it is conceivable for one bolt in a fishplate to break or come loose, but almost impossible that three out of four should fail at the same time.