CORRECTED-Rescue workers comb wreckage of French rail crash

Sat Jul 13, 2013 8:26am EDT

(Corrects in 2d paragraph to remove reference to worst accident in 25 years and adds details of 2002 crash in which 12 people were killed paragraph 16)

By Pauline Ades-Mevel

BRETIGNY-SUR-ORGE, France, July 13 (Reuters) - Rescue workers on Saturday searched for any more passengers buried in the wreckage of a train that derailed in central France, killing at least six people and injuring dozens.

Officials said it was too early to determine the cause of Friday evening's rail accident. But one strand of inquiries focused on the declining state of France's rail network, once seen as a source of national pride.

The accident marred festivities for France's July 14 Bastille Day, traditionally the cue for French families to embark on long summer holidays.

Workers spent the night cutting through tangled metal, but found no more victims. Authorities said the toll could rise if more victims were found in the wreckage or if any of the nine seriously wounded passengers died.

A crane was brought to the crash site to lift a carriage that fell onto its side and others torn open in the accident.

The train, a regional service that travels more slowly than France's TGV express trains, veered off the track en route from Paris to the city of Limoges at the station of Bretigny-sur-Orge, 26 km (16 miles) south of the capital.

National rail operator SNCF said the train was carrying around 385 people and that an investigation was under way.

Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier dismissed speculation the train was travelling too fast as it entered the station and suggested the rail-switching system could have been at fault.

He said the accident could have been much worse if the train driver had not reacted quickly to avoid hitting another train that was only 200 metres (yards) away.

"There could have been a much more serious collision with a much heavier toll," Cuvillier told France Info.

Guillaume Pepy, head of rail company SNCF, pledged thorough checks of the network's switching systems starting on Saturday.

"We know that the SNCF's equipment needs to be renovated... but it is premature to make a link between the state of the infrastructure, the material used and the accident," Bernard Decoux, mayor of Bretigny, told French TV channel iTele.

"Everything was fine and then all of a sudden it was if we were riding through gravel," Clement, 17, one of the train's passengers, who was in the second wagon, told Reuters.

"Then the wagon in front of me started to tilt over."

The train crashed just a few days after the government unveiled details of planned investments in the railway network. Traffic was disrupted on train lines between Toulouse, Orleans, Limoges and the Paris-Austerlitz train stations, SNCF said.

France has suffered several train crashes in the past few decades. One of the most significant took place in 2002 in eastern France when a fire swept through the carriages of a Paris-Vienna overnight sleeper, killing 12.

One of the most deadly was in 1988, when a commuter train headed into Paris' Gare de Lyon crashed into a stationary train, killing 56 people, after its brakes failed.

President Francois Hollande, due to give the traditional Bastille Day address from his Elysee Palace on Sunday, raced to the scene on Friday to commiserate with families of the victims. (Writing and additional reporting by Astrid Wendlandt; editing by Mark John and Alistair Lyon)

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