French rail firm SNCF to stand trial over fatal train crash

French state rail firm SNCF and three employees involved in a deadly crash during testing of a new high-speed train in 2015 are to stand trial over the accident charged with manslaughter, judicial sources said on Monday.

French rail firm SNCF to stand trial over fatal train crash
Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP

The train crashed near the eastern city of Strasbourg on November 14th, 2015, causing 11 deaths and leaving 42 with injuries during a test run to which the families of senior SNCF employees had been invited.

Experts consulted by investigators believe that the train was travelling at 265 kilometres an hour when it took a corner with a speed limit of 176 kmh, leading it to derail a few hundred metres after.

Excessive speed and late braking were found to be the causes, while SNCF admitted that there were seven people in the driver’s carriage instead of the authorised four.

The SNCF, two subsidiaries including Systra, the company responsible for railway tests, as well as three employees are to stand trial for manslaughter caused by “clumsiness, carelessness, negligence or failure to follow safety procedures,” legal sources told AFP.

“I acknowledge the decision of the investigating magistrates (to order a trial) while I do not share their analysis of the law and the facts,” a lawyer for Systra, Philippe Goossens, told AFP.

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Train access to French Alps to remain disrupted through ski season

Access to several French ski resorts in the Alps will be limited this season, due to damage caused by a summer landslide.

Train access to French Alps to remain disrupted through ski season

People looking to reach the ski resorts of Valfréjus, Val-Cenis, Aussois and La Norma might experience additional difficulties if travelling by train during winter 2023-2024.

A landslide hit the town of Saint-André in the Haute-Maurienne Vanoise area in August, taking out portions of the train tracks that are needed to get to higher altitude ski towns and resorts. 

READ MORE: From high altitude to family friendly: 15 of the best French ski resorts

It also damaged tracks that would normally connect France to the Italian cities of Turin and Milan.

“Rail traffic between Saint-Michel-Valloire and Modane will be interrupted for an unknown period of time. SNCF Voyageurs is doing everything it can to ensure the best possible service to this area,” French national rail services, SNCF, said at the time of the incident.

As of early December – when SNCF normally opens several stations for their ‘TGV ski’ plan – the tracks had not yet been repaired. 

Consequently, the terminus for the route (both for TGV and TER trains, according to France Bleu) that once ended at the Modane station will now conclude at Saint-Michel-Valloire instead due to the damages.

SNCF Services plan (Source: SNCF Réseau)

SNCF told Le Parisien that bus shuttles would be made available to take travellers to the stations between Saint-Michel-Valloire and Modane.

The buses will be operated by the Auvergne Rhône Alpes regional authorities and the transport group Transdev. 

The head of Transdev Savoie, Nicolas Prouvot, told Le Parisien that they will be “allocating additional human and material resources. Those normally located at Modane will be transferred to Saint-Michel. We are also in the process of recruiting thirty drivers to meet demand.”

If you plan to travel on this line, you can find the schedule for the bus replacement services here.

Concerns about the Saint-Michel-Valloire station

Unions worry that the new terminus station is too small to handle a large influx of travellers, as is anticipated during the February school holidays. 

Nevertheless – SNCF still plans to run approximately 10 trips to and from the station during the school holidays (between February 10th and March 11th), according to reporting by Le Parisien, after consulting an internal company document.

Each of the weekends, aside from that of February 24th were expected to run all planned trips, the French daily reported.

Railway workers, like Julien Troccaz, head of the SUD Rail union, are not so sure this will be achievable. Troccaz told Le Parisien that unlike the Modane station, the Saint-Michel-Valloire one does not have a marshalling yard – a space where a train would be parked for an hour or two while it is cleaned and readied for departure. 

Without this separate area, the driver will have to turn the train around quickly – a maneuver which usually takes time and practice, Troccaz explained.

What about driving?

According to France Bleu, the A43 motorway was quickly reopened following the landslide. As such, car access to ski resorts in the Haute-Muarienne Vanoise area is not expected to be disrupted during winter 2024.

The local tourist office told France Bleu that 88 percent of visitors coming to ski in the area arrived by car in 2023, so most people will not notice any major changes.