French rail network given all-clear as probe opens

France's SNCF state rail company said on Wednesday that no more safety risks had been detected during a nationwide probe of its network after a fatal derailment earlier this month. Prosecutors have announced a criminal probe had been opened into the disaster.

French rail network given all-clear as probe opens
The scene of the crash: @be_roby Twitter

The opening of criminal investigation into involuntary homicide and injury was announced on Wednesday by the prosecutor of Evry, Eric Lallement. 

The crash on July 12th at the Bretigny-sur-Orge station, about 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of Paris left six people dead, two passengers and four people who were standing on the platform.

French rail operator SNCF blamed the accident – which saw the intercity train derail as it sped through the station – on a connecting bar that had come loose at a rail switchpoint.

Prosecutor Lallement said the idea someone had purposefully loosened the connecting bar is not one authorities are giving much weight to. The prosecutor said they working on the theory of "material failure" and will aim to get to the bottom of how the connecting bar came loose. Three judges will now be appointed to lead the investigation.

He also confirmed reports that thieves had stolen from two passengers involved in the crash. 

Objects belonging to the passengers were found in Chatelet, central Paris, and CCTV images showed people leaving the station with suitcases they did not have when they arrived, the magistrate said.

The prosecutor also confirmed that rocks were thrown at five firefighters who had responded to the emergency and one emergency aid worker reported having his phone stolen.

In the days after the disaster SNCF carried out extensive checks of around 5,000 other rail switchpoints. The results of the checks were announced on Wednesday.

"The checks have not detected any situations that would threaten safety," Pierre Izard, the SNCF's general manager for infrastructure, told a press conference.

Izard said nearly 5,000 switchpoints had been checked since the accident.

The SNCF said its findings had been handed over to judicial and transport safety authorities, who are carrying out their own investigations into the accident.

SNCF chief Guillaume Pepy said it remained unclear how the connecting bar had come loose at the station.

"Every possibility is being considered," he said.

The accident, which also left dozens injured, raised concerns about the state of France's rail network, with some officials complaining that regional lines had suffered as funding focused on high-speed TGV lines.

President Francois Hollande said after the accident that France must do "much more" to maintain regional lines, vowing to make them a priority for investment.

Last week an explosive police document was published alleging that opportunistic thieves threw stones at police and rescue workers and stole possessions from accident victims in the aftermath of the derailment.

The contents of the document, which was revealed by Le Point magazine, said that individuals from the suburb "hampered the progress of rescue vehicles by throwing projectiles at them".

"Certain trouble-makers had succeeded in seizing personal possessions scattered on the ground or on the victims themselves," the document from the CRS (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité), a unit of the French National Police said.

Last week, however, authorities officially denied there were any thefts from passengers while police have stated publicly that no passengers have reported any crime.

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How to find cheap train tickets in France

Travelling by train is one of the best ways to see France - even with a mandatory mask on. Here - from railcards to sales - is how you can make it even better by cutting the cost of your ticket.

A blue high-speed Ouigo low-cost TGV train arriving at  de l'Est railway station in Paris, with the the Sacre-Coeur Basilica in the background
From cheap services to railcards, here's how to save money on train travel. Photo: Joel Saget / AFP

Railcards are the most common way to cut the cost of a ticket. In some cases, the card can even pay for itself in one journey. France’s rail operator SNCF has a range of cards available for everyone from impoverished students to regular business travellers with an expenses account to burn.

But if you’re not a regular traveller there are also a range of offers plus cheaper services to opt for.

Let’s start with the railcards.

Liberté card

This one’s really for business travellers, who use the TGV or Ouigo and Intercite trains regularly. And it comes with a price to match – €399 for a year. This guarantees cardholders 60 percent off SNCF’s Business Première fares when travelling standard class, and  45 percent off Business Première fares when travelling 1st class. Plus, there’s between 25 percent and 50 percent off TER fares in certain regions, and it’s valid for use in other European countries.

Forfait pass

Effectively a season ticket, this one’s for commuters who regularly use TGV INOUI or Intercité services to get to work. Prices vary based on how much you travel, and you can get annual, monthly or weekly passes. Click here for a calculation of how much you will have to pay.

Avantage Senior 60+ card

SNCF relatively recently rebranded its railcards under the Avantage umbrella. If you’re aged 60 or over and travel occasionally with TGV Inoui, Intercités or TER in France, you will save 30 percent on first and standard class travel, for an annual fee of €49. And there’s 60 percent off ticket prices for up to three accompanying children aged between four and 11.

In fact, standard fares are capped for all destinations in France, no matter when you book. And that’s on top of a 30 percent guaranteed discount on 1st- and standard-class train tickets. 

You’re guaranteed affordable fares, even at the last minute. They’re currently capped as follows:

  • €39 or less for a short journey (under 90 minutes)
  • €59 or less for a medium-length journey (between 90 minutes and three hours)
  • €79 or less for the longest journey (over three hours)

Plus, there are savings on food and drink prices on the train – as well as other perks that are worth looking into.

Avantage Adulte Card

If you’re aged 27-59 and take TGV Inoui, Intercités or TER trains often, it’s worth looking into the Avantage Adulte card – which has replaced the Avantage Weekend and Avantage Famille cards – because you’ll save 30 percent on first and standard class tickets for the annual €49 fee.

Discounts extend to accompanying adults, and there’s 60 percent off ticket prices for up to three accompanying children aged between four and 11.

As with the Senior card, standard class fares are capped for all destinations in France. And you get the onboard perks too, including 15 percent off food and drink from the trolley.

Avantage Jeune Card

For anyone aged 12 to 27, the Avantage Jeune card will save you 30 percent on TGV Inoui and Intercité services that require booking for the annual €49 fee.

Standard class fares are capped for all destinations in France. And you get the onboard perks too, including 15 percent off food and drink from the trolley.

Other ways to save money

If you’re not a regular travellers and don’t want a railcard, there are other ways to save money when travelling.

Ouigo trains

SNCF’s low-cost TGV service offers high-speed cut-price travel in and out of Paris to 17 French destinations. There are drawbacks though, the trains have fewer on-board services and some of them only go to stations close to a city, rather than the city-centre station – so it’s worth checking when you book exactly where you will end up.

Children under 12 years of age can travel for €5 all year long, or €8 to or from a station in Paris.

Railcards are valid on Ouigo trains, cutting ticket prices further.

Happy Hour

Be aware of last-minute ‘Happy Hour’ deals on available on select days for selected Intercité trains to a selection of destinations around France. You could save up to 50 percent on ticket prices. And, yes, railcards are valid.

Ticket sales

Watch out, too, for announcements of when tickets are available for sale. From November 3rd, for example, rail tickets are available up to March 27, 2022 – and up to July 2, 2022, for Inoui tickets.

Early booking may get you a good deal, and SNCF offers regular deals particularly around peak travel times such as summer and Christmas. Downloading the SNCF app will get you advance notification of sales.