TGV deaths in France

On Saturday, whilst still reeling from the horrific events of Friday night, a second tragedy shocked France, when a TGV test train fell off the tracks with a number of deaths and injuries.

The train was testing the behaviour of the line at a variety of speeds from 160kph unto 352kph, as part of a programme of tests before commercial opening of the new line between Paris and Strasberg due in Sprng 2016

The TGV train derailed at a canal bridge and split in two, with carriages being scattered into surrounding fields, and one engine falling into the canal, in a scene one government minister described as apocalyptical. A mushroom cloud of black smoke was visible. It was fairly quickly concluded that this was not a further terrorist act.

Ten people died at the scene, with an eleventh death in hospital. A further 43 people were injured, including four children.

SNCF are considering three alternative possibilities: a failure of the train, an infrastructure failure, or human error. One particular line of inquiry is the speed of the train, which is being tested at speeds of up to 352kph, although the speed limit on this part of the line was 176kph. The driver is reported as saying that he had kept to the speed limit.

The train is a normal commercial TGV train specially equipped with the necessary measuring equipment which may provide extra information. Although they were supposed to publish initial results of their primary inquiry this morning (Wednesday) this is delayed until Thursday as the train’s ‘black box’ is still with the prosecutor in Strasbourg.

The line was supposed to open in March 2016, although it is not clear whether this will now be delayed.

Our sympathy is with the families of the people involved in the accident and we hope the injured make a speedy recovery.

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3 comments on “TGV deaths in France
  1. There are no less than three separate enquiries underway (one has reported already)

    For the purposes of clarity and information, please see URL link to the findings of the initial enquiry, which is (conveniently for readers here) translated into English
    http://www.sncf.com/ressources/sncf_press_conference_english_version.pdf

    Not sure about others but the causes of this tragic accident are abundantly clear to me – a combination of human failing (hubris & gross negiligence / carelessness) plus pure unavoidable physics, was the culprit.

    The test train entered a bend too fast, braking should have been applied much earlier but wasn’t. The train was travelling at 243km/h (when it left the track) on a bend normally restricted to 176km/h – because some safety systems were partially deactivated (it’s a test train) this was possible, so it came off the track.

    Conclusions?

    1. If you drive any vehicle round a bend too fast, you lose control – the laws of physics take over and there is nothing you can do to stop it
    2. This accident didn’t happen because it was a High Speed Train involved – it could have happened on any track where safety systems had either been deliberately overidden or failed due to catastrophic malfunction (drive a UK Pacer Train round a bend limited to 50km/h at 100km/h and it will come off the track)
    3. This accident couldn’t happen in normal commercial service conditions because safety systems mandatory for such operation would automatically kick in and prevent it by stopping the train

  2. YES, of course, to a full and public enquiry- as will doubtless take place ;this is Western Europe after all-,and lessons learned will be applied.

    No, to MAGLEV, as, unlike ‘conventional’ rail based HS, it cannot be integrated into the existing established network.

  3. Surely this tragic failure should call for an enquiry into HS2 including the more acceptable routing of the safer maglev alternative Ultraspeed?

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