No fewer than seven people were killed and dozens injured on Friday after a speeding train split in two and derailed at a station in the southern suburbs of Paris, according to officials.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls gave an initial toll of seven dead and said there were “dozens of injured” following the accident at the Bretigny-sur-Orge station involving a train heading from Paris to the west-central city of Limoges.
Many passengers were believed to be trapped inside wrecked carriages that were lying on their sides after the accident.
“The toll at this stage is constantly evolving and will be heavier,” Valls told reporters in Nimes.
The local prefect’s office said at least six people had died and 12 injured, including nine in a serious condition.
The head of the SNCF national railway, Guillaume Pepy, told reporters at the scene that six carriages had derailed during the accident. The train’s third and fourth carriages derailed first and the others followed, he said.
A clearly emotional Pepy expressed the rail company’s “solidarity with the victims and their families”.
“Rail catastrophes are something that upset everyone and all of those who are committed to our national rail service,” he said.
The prefect’s office said a “red alert” plan had been activated following the accident, which officials said happened at 5:14 pm (1514 GMT), minutes after the intercity train left the Paris-Austerlitz station.
The cause of the accident was not immediately known, but sources said part of the train split and rolled on its side as it arrived at the station.
“The train arrived at the station at high speed. It split in two for an unknown reason. Part of the train continued to roll while the other was left on its side on the platform,” a police source told AFP.
“It was not a collision and it was not a problem with the speed,” a source with the SNCF told AFP.
Bretigny Mayor Bernard Decaux told newspaper Le Parisien there was chaos at the station.
“Everyone is running in every direction, there is panic,” he said. “It is an apocalyptic scene. We are trying to organise things.”
Dozens of emergency and police vehicles had arrived at the scene and a security cordon was set up around the station, an AFP reporter said.
Rescue helicopters had been deployed and all Paris region hospital had been put on alert to deal with the wounded, officials said.
Photographs of the accident posted on social networks showed a train carriage that had apparently derailed and risen onto the platform, tearing down a section of the station’s roof as it moved forward.
The accident occurred as many in France were departing for the start of their summer holidays. Travel to and from the Austerlitz station in Paris had been temporarily suspended. [AFP]