The Brétigny tragedy has changed safety at the SNCF



“Many of us remember exactly where we were at the time,” confides a TGV driver who evokes the shock felt then by the railway corps. This “at that time”, it was at 5.11 p.m. on Friday July 12, 2013, when the Corail Intercités train no. 3657 linking Paris to Limoges derailed at the entrance to Brétigny-sur-Orge station (Essonne), about thirty kilometers of the capital. Part of the convoy, which was traveling at 137 km / h – authorized speed – then overturned on the track, other cars mowing down a platform where travelers were stationed. The toll is very heavy: 7 people died, including three who were on the train. Dozens of people are physically injured, hundreds in shock… “In the hearts of railway workers, there is a before and an after Brétigny, explains Bernard Aubin, general secretary of the First union (non-representative). Each rail accident that affects human lives causes consternation, even amazement among railway workers, so deeply rooted in the dogma of traffic safety. » SAccording to the latter, the drama of Brétigny seems to result from a sum of interactions which seems impossible, and above all unthinkable.

“A crack in the rail, the breaking of bolts, the overturning of a joint in a switch, a sort of large staple fixing two rails, this joint itself lifting a wheel of the train as it passes… What we think be the causes of the accident had never been observed or considered in the world”points out Arnaud Aymé, transport specialist consultant at Sia Partners, according to which “trauma” de Brétigny accelerated the modernization of maintenance and reaffirmed the “culture of safety. » Emergency inspections are first undertaken with the verification of several thousand switches such as that of Brétigny. We learn that 0.2% of the bolts were missing and that 4% of them were tightened. “But nothing that compromised the safety of trains and passengers”, notes a former executive of Réseau ferré de France (RFF) which, in 1993, was the group that owned and managed the French railway.

Above all, a longer-term program has been initiated with “Vigirail”, which aims to strengthen infrastructure monitoring and modernize maintenance procedures. “The renewal of switches has accelerated, notes Arnaud Aymé. We went from 300 devices changed per year before 2014 to 500 since. » Four trains stuffed with sensors, including a TGV train called Iris (launched seven years before the Brétigny tragedy), now run 7 days a week to examine the tracks, which themselves have been equipped with electronic detectors over the years. They alert in particular in the event of overheating or deformation of the rails. The “Prism” program, which some compare to air and nuclear security methods, was also set up to simplify and modernize risk reporting procedures. “The maintenance agents have been equipped with tablets in order to report observations more quickly and to exploit them automatically”, explains Arnaud Aymé, who also mentions the hiring of a large number of data analysts. ” They are also encouraged to report any malfunctions without fear of being penalized. »

According to Gilles Dansart, director of the specialized transport information site Mobilettre, “The Brétigny disaster, at least during the first years following the event, confirmed the political decision-makers in their desire to increase the sums devoted to the maintenance and replacement of tracks after several reports, including that of the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne (EPFL) in 2005, which drew up an alarming assessment of the state of the network. The disaster undoubtedly accelerated this development. » We have gone from 1 billion euros per year in 2000 to nearly 3 billion today. However, many people believe that this amount, also planned for the period 2021-2030, remains insufficient. Today, about a quarter of the 48,000 kilometers of railway tracks have been replaced, and SNCF figures suggest a 40% drop in incidents on the network.

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