A French high-speed TGV train derailed early on Thursday after an embankment collapsed onto the tracks in eastern France, seriously injuring the driver and hurting 21 others.
The train, compared with Japan’s famed “bullet train”, was heading to Paris at approximately 270 kilometres per hour (170 miles/h) when the locomotive ran off the tracks near Ingenheim, about 30km (19 miles) northwest of Strasbourg.
The driver sustained a crushed chest and was evacuated by helicopter in critical condition, said Dominique Schuffenecker of the Bas-Rhin regional authority.
National rail operator SNCF said he was expected to survive, while the crew chief on the train suffered a back injury and one passenger suffered a facial injury.
Most of the other injuries among the 348 passengers on board were minor, though some were treated for bruises or shock, Schuffenecker said.
The train was still intact but the locomotive was leaning on its side and four other wagons were also off the tracks, which were bent near the area where the embankment collapsed, according to the journalists of AFP news agency at the scene.
Malgré cette sortie de voie, le TGV est resté debout. Les premières constatations font état d’un bilan de trois blessés. L’agent de conduite du TGV, grièvement blessé, a été évacué par hélicoptère.
— Groupe SNCF (@GroupeSNCF) March 5, 2020
“Despite going off the tracks, the TGV remained upright. Initial findings indicate that three people were injured. The seriously injured TGV operator was evacuated by helicopter,” SNCF said in a Twitter post that included a picture of what it called “a major landslide”.
“The necessary security mechanisms … functioned perfectly,” it added.
Nearly 100 rescue workers and dozens of fire engines were at the scene of the incident, which occurred about 20 minutes after the train left Strasbourg at 7:19am (06:19 GMT).
Several passengers were taken by bus to a community hall in Ingenheim, where a crisis medical centre was set up.
“The rails moved under the TGV,” the SNCF’s regional director, Stephanie Dommange, told journalists.
A spokesman said the driver was able to apply the emergency brakes.
Union sources noted the heavy precipitation in the region recently which could have caused the landslide that damaged the tracks near Saverne, near the German border.
The CFDT union said the accident “raises questions … over how to ensure the security of equipment on terrain susceptible to climate hazards, and how to verify the state of tracks in real time”.
But Dommange said high-speed lines in particular were regularly maintained and “are made to withstand rain”.
The SNCF, as well as local prosecutors, have opened inquiries.
“The impact was quite violent … we were holding on to our trays to keep from being thrown forward,” passenger Abba Perez told AFP. “It was incredibly loud, we had no idea what was happening.”
Many passengers were shaken by the accident, with some saying their backs had been hurt, but “there wasn’t any wave of panic”, he said.
Another passenger, who gave his name as Philippe, told the Top Music local radio station that “it felt like we were in a washing machine”.
“Rocks were flying everywhere and the windows all shattered,” he said. “We were all in a bit of shock.”
Train services between Strasbourg and Paris were continuing to run with high-speed trains rerouted via an older conventional line, SNCF said.