Investigations continue into Perpignan bus-train crash

Investigations are still ongoing to establish what happened in a fatal crash between a school bus and a train near Perpignan

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The accident took place yesterday (Thursday 14 December) at around 16h10, near the commune of Millas, around 20 km from Perpignan, and a “homicide and involuntary injury” investigation has been opened, reports news source FranceInfo today.

So far, it has been established that a TER train travelling between Perpignan and Villefranche-de-Conflent collided at 80 km/h with the back of the school bus, which was carrying 20 children and a teacher, from a collège (middle school) in Millas.

French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday tweeted his condolences and assured the affected families that the State was working on their behalf.

Toutes mes pensées pour les victimes de ce terrible accident d'un bus scolaire et pour leurs familles. La mobilisation de l'État est totale pour leur porter secours.

— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) December 14, 2017

Images of the accident site show that the bus was completely sheared into two by the impact. Contrary to earlier reports that put the death toll at six, the préfecture says that four people have died, with nine others severely injured and a further nine receiving less serious injuries.

Three passengers in the TER were also slightly injured.

The Mairie of Millas has put an emergency information telephone number in place for anyone wishing for family news after the accident, on 04 68 57 35 03.

Both the bus and the TER are now under forensic investigation by the inquiry.

Reports suggest that the bus somehow managed to enter the road over the railway tracks, despite the protection barrier across the road allegedly being lowered exactly as it should have been (although some witnesses dispute this).

In a statement to international newswire Reuters, a spokesperson for train company SNCF said: “The crossing is a standard crossing; properly-equipped and well-lit. Several witnesses have confirmed that the barriers were lowered, so they [appeared to be] working properly; pending further investigations in the enquiry.”

One side of the barriers appears to still be working, while the other side has been smashed; although it is not yet clear whether it was broken by the bus before the accident, or damaged in the incident itself. No conclusions have yet been drawn.

The spokesperson further confirmed that trains regularly travel at 80 km/h along the affected part of the route, and that it was not unusual for the train to be at that speed.

“There is a lot of uncertainty at this stage of the investigation,” said Jean Valéry Lettermann, deputy commander of the gendarmerie of Occitanie, speaking to FranceInfo.

“Emergency work is still being carried out by the fire brigade, and we [the gendarmerie] are looking at both the identity of the victims and an inquiry into what happened.”

Identification of some of the victims has been made significantly more difficult “due to the violence” of the accident, according to a statement by French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who was working in the relatively-nearby town of Cahors (Lot) at the time of the crash and visited the scene as soon as possible.

Two emergency helicopters were present immediately after the crash, as well as an advanced medical team and 95 firefighters.

Perpignan CHU entered “code white”, allowing it to take on a large number of victims at once, with the Clinique Saint-Pierre and the CHUs of Toulouse and Montpellier also treating victims.

Transport minister Elisabeth Borne, the president of SNCF Guillaume Pepy and the CEO of the SNCF Network Patrick Jeantet, have also been present at the scene. Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer is also expected on-site this morning (Friday 15).

More conclusions from the inquiry are expected in the coming hours and days.

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