FRANCE: A court in Evry has found national operator SNCF guilty of homicide and involuntary injury following the derailment on July 12 2013 of a Paris Austerlitz – Limoges locomotive-hauled Intercités service at Brétigny-sur-Orge in the southern Paris suburbs.

The train was passing through Brétigny station when the rear four of seven Corail coaches derailed at 137 km/h, killing seven people and injuring or traumatising 428 others, some of whom were waiting on the station’s platforms.

In its ruling on October 26, the court issued SNCF with a €300 000 penalty but acquitted local maintenance inspector Laurent Waton, who had made the last inspection of the trackwork eight days before the accident. Infrastructure company SNCF Réseau, which in 2013 was functioning as Réseau Ferré de France, was also acquitted.

At the end of a trial that lasted from April 25 to June 17 this year, the public prosecutor had stated that SNCF had ‘created the context at the origin of the accident’ by ‘a failure in the maintenance chain’. The prosecutor had asked for a maximum penalty of €450 000, saying that the ‘whole concept of public service has collapsed’ and accusing SNCF of being ‘a company in denial’.

The derailment was caused by a loose fishplate obstructing the flangeway of an oblique crossing forming part of a double slip about 200 m north of the station. The fishplate had pivoted as a result of a crack spreading in the crossing which had first been detected in 2008.

The crack should have been monitored annually by SNCF, and ‘this negligence in monitoring the crossing is definitely linked to the derailment’, the judge said in the October 26 ruling. If SNCF had correctly checked the crossing it would have noted its damaged condition and proceeded to replace it, the judge concluded.

The court also found that SNCF had inadequate documentary checks in place to monitor the work carried out by its maintenance staff. In its defence, SNCF said that the accident was attributable to an undetectable defect in the steel used in the crossing, but the judge dismissed this argument.