Paris Metro derailment injures 24 in worst accident for two decades

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The Independent Online

Twenty-four people were injured yesterday when the front carriage of a Paris Métro train toppled over as it approached a station.

Twenty-four people were injured yesterday when the front carriage of a Paris Métro train toppled over as it approached a station.

The carriage fell on to its side on the neighbouring track just short of a train that had stopped in the station. The cause of the crash, the most serious on the Métro for 19 years, was uncertain last night.

The head of the state-owned Paris transport company, the RATP, said three possibilities were being examined: excessive speed by the driver; defective track, or some form of fault in the wheels of the train.

None of the passengers had life-threatening injuries, although several suffered broken limbs and severe cuts.

The Métro, which celebrates its centenary this year, is one of the safest urban transport systems in the world, with only three fatal accidents in 100 years. A complete derailment of this kind is unprecedented.

A criminal investigation against "persons unknown" for causing accidental injuries was ordered last night, although that is standard procedure in France.

The accident happened at 1.23pm French time at Notre-Dame de Lorette station on Line 12 in the ninth arrondissement, northern Paris. A southbound train from Port de la Chapelle to Mairie d'Issy left the track as it negotiated a bend into the station. The leading vehicle of the four-carriage train, built in 1972, came to rest on its side a yard from a stationary northbound train. The other carriages remained upright. Normally the train would have been travelling at about 25mph.

Métro officials are examining the possibility that the driver - an experienced man who had started duty one hour before - exceeded the speed limit.

But the head of the Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP), Jean-Paul Bailly, said last night that there were "no clear elements to explain" the crash. Mr Bailly said it was a "serious incident" and the "number of injuries might have been far greater".

Almost 200 firemen went to the scene. First-aid stations were set up on the station platform and in a café.

A woman lying on a stretcher outside the station said: "Everything happened very quickly. We all screamed. My legs were trapped but the person sitting next to me helped me to climb out of the window."

Fabienne Combescure, a passenger in one of the rear carriages, said that there was a moment of panic when people realised that they could not escape through the doors. Then people started to climb out through the roof and windows. Ms Combescure and other passengers thought that there had been a head-on collision but this was denied by the police and RATP officials.

Evangelos Tzonis, who was in the stationary train, said: "I heard a deafening noise, then saw the subway car coming toward me and thought I was going to die."

He added: "The entire station was plunged into darkness. About a dozen people covered in blood were climbing out of the broken windows. There was no panic but lots of people were crying."

Alain Caire, the head of safety for the RATP, said: "I have never seen anything like this in my 31 years on the Métro. I have never seen a carriage fall right over like this. There can only have been some kind of mechanical fault."

Inquiries by the legal authorities and the RATP were under way last night.

There has been no serious accident on the Paris Métro since 1981, when two trains collided, killing a driver and injuring five passengers. There have been several crashes since then on the Métro's sister network, the regional RER - including a collision in 1992 that injured 33 people - but no serious incidents on the Métro proper.

By far the worst disaster to happen on the Métro occurred in August 1903, soon after its opening, when 84 passengers were asphyxiated after a train caught fire.

Most of them could have escaped safely but refused to leave the platform until their tickets had been refunded. There have been only two fatal accidents since then.

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