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Two dead, eight hurt as train derails in French Alps: firefighters

Published on Feb 8, 2014 8:03 PM

DIGNE-LES-BAINS, France (AFP) - Two women were killed when a massive falling boulder hit a passing train in the French Alps on Saturday, leaving one of its carriages dangling precariously off a steep, snow-covered embankment.

Eight people were injured in the accident which took place as the train travelled from the coastal city of Nice to the popular tourist town of Digne-les-Bains along a narrow, winding, and sometimes breathtakingly steep track.

A Russian woman was killed as well as a woman living in the Alps region, said local prosecutor Stephane Kellenberger, adding that 34 people had been on board the train. Both victims were in their seventies.

Witnesses said an enormous boulder had struck the train, violently throwing one of its two carriages off the track.

Images of the accident show the carriage hanging off the edge of a ravine, with a large crater in its side as the other teeters on the edge.

“It was as if the boulder fell from the sky, like in an earthquake,” said traveller Jean-Jacques Messaoud, 47, who said he had seen a victim bleeding heavily.

Another passenger, Floriane Bonnet, was relaxing at the back of the train when the accident happened. “I didn’t understand, I was thrown to the left and I saw the first half of
the train go down the embankment. I tried to break a window but couldn’t manage it so I left through the front.”

Another woman was rushed to hospital in critical condition and seven others were lightly injured, according to local authorities. Rescuers had earlier reported nine people injured.

Firefighters from around the mountainous region were drafted in to help in the rescue operation in a remote and mountainous area difficult to access due to the snow.

A total of 110 firefighters and 32 vehicles were deployed, as well as two helicopters.

The railway, known as the Train des Pignes (Pine Cone Train), is hugely popular among tourists, taking them on a picturesque 151-kilometre journey from the sea to the mountains of Haute-Provence.

Over 100 years old, the railway crosses some 30 bridges and viaducts and 25 tunnels through valleys and gorges on an often hair-raising journey at up to 1,000 metres above sea level.

The train’s name is said to come from the fact that it was so slow it allowed travellers to get off and pick up pine cones from the side of the tracks.

Others believe it was so named because pine cones were used as tinder to fire up the old steam engine when the line was opened in 1911.

French Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier was due to visit the scene of the accident on Saturday afternoon.

In July last year an intercity train derailed as it sped through a station about 25 kilometres south of Paris, leaving seven dead.

Background story

France’s deadliest train disasters in the past 30 years

PARIS (AFP) - Two women were killed and several people
injured when a massive falling boulder hit a passing train in the French Alps
on Saturday. Here is a list of France’s worst railway disasters in the past 30 years.

- Jan 8, 2014: Two dead and eight injured as a tourist train derails
after being struck by a falling boulder in Digne-les-Bains in southeast France.

- July 12, 2013: Seven people are killed and dozens injured when a train
derails as it passes through a station at Bretigny-sur-Orge, about 25
kilometres south of Paris.

- June 2, 2008: Seven pupils are killed and 25 people injured when a
passenger train linking Evian-les-Bains and Geneva hits a school bus at a level
crossing near the town of Allinges, in the French Alps.

- Oct 11, 2006: Six people are killed and 23 injured when a passenger
train collides with a freight train in Zoufftgen, in northeastern France.

- Nov 6, 2002: 12 people are killed when a night train linking Paris
and Vienna catches fire near the eastern city of Nancy.

- Sept 8, 1997: 13 people are killed and 43 others injured when a
passenger train ploughs into a fuel truck at a level crossing in the village of
Port-Sainte-Foy in southwestern France, sparking a huge explosion and fire.

- Sept 22, 1995: Five people are killed when a train collides with a
car at a level crossing in the southern town of Agde.

- Dec 1, 1993: Four people are killed and four others are seriously
injured after a teenager placed a piece of metal on the tracks, causing a train
to derail in the northern village of Saint-Leu-d’Esserent.

- Oct 17, 1991: 16 people are killed and 55 others are injured when a
car-sleeper train collides with a freight train at a station in Melun,
southeast of Paris.

- Nov 7, 1988: Nine people are killed and 13 others injured when a
Luxembourg-Paris express train crashes into a track motor car and derails in
the eastern town of Ay because of a signalling error.

- June 27, 1988: 56 people are killed and almost as many are injured when a
commuter train crashes into a stationary train at Paris’s Gare de Lyon terminal.

- Aug 31, 1985: 43 people are killed and 37 are injured when a train
derails after colliding with another train in the central town of

- Aug 3, 1985: 32 people are killed and more than 160 injured when two
trains collide, partly due to human error, near the southwestern town of Figeac.