Thibault Camus / AP
Railway's employees are seen on the scene where a train derailed at a station in Bretigny sur Orge, south of Paris, Saturday, July 13, 2013.
A dislodged piece of steel may have caused a French train to derail about 15 miles outside of Paris on Friday, killing six people and injuring more than a dozen, the national rail company said on Saturday.
A mechanical problem with the faulty piece at a track junction most likely caused the train crash, said Pierre Izard, an official with state-owned rail company SNCF. Officials said that the deadly crash was most likely not the result of human error.
"Fortunately the conductor of the train had absolutely extraordinary reflexes to trigger an alert immediately that prevented the collision with a train that was coming in the opposite direction and which would have, in a matter of a few seconds, crashed into the derailed trains. Therefore, it is not a human problem," Minister of Transportation Frederic Cuvillier said in an interview on RTL radio on Saturday.
The 385-passenger train traveling from Paris to Limoges derailed at 5:15pm local time on Friday, causing a multi-car pileup alongside the station platform in Bretingy-sur-Orge.
A switch on the track “broke away, became detached and came out of its housing,” Izard told reporters at a news conference at the scene.
“It moved into the center of the switch, and in this position it prevented the normal passage of the train’s wheels and seems to have caused the derailment," he said.
It is unclear what caused the mechanical problem with the faulty track piece, but Cuvillier said that no hypothesis has been dismissed and that examining the rails and wheels of the train would be investigators' first priority.
French President Francois Hollande extended his condolences to the victims and their families at the scene on Friday.
"I also want to express my solidarity to the families of those hurt. It is going to take a long time to identify all the victims, the investigations have begun, and as soon as it is possible we will contact the families and give out the names, but I understand the apprehension and the pain. My thoughts are with them,” Hollande said.
SNCF and the transportation ministry have launched probes into the cause of the crash.
First published July 13 2013, 8:15 AM