THE train derailment that killed at least six people in central France may have been caused by a loose steel plate at a junction, French train operator SNCF said.
The plate, which should have remained bolted on to the track, moved to "the middle of the junction", preventing the rolling stock from passing through, Pierre Izard, the head of infrastructure services at SNCF, said yesterday.
"The reasons why this fishplate dislocated itself is the very focus of the investigations," SNCF head Guillaume Pepy said, adding that the train operator would immediately begin checking 5,000 similar junctions throughout the French rail network.
The accident, which injured dozens of people, marred festivities for France's July 14 Bastille Day, traditionally the cue for French families to embark on long summer holidays.
Traffic remained disrupted yesterday on the central rail line linking Paris to Orleans, Limoges and Toulouse.
The Paris-Limoges train, on a regional service that travels more slowly than France's TGV express trains, derailed at the station of Bretigny-sur-Orge, 26km south of the capital. It was carrying 385 people.
Workers spent the night cutting through tangled metal, but found no more victims. A crane was brought in to lift a carriage that fell on to its side and others torn open in the accident.
Local Essonne region prefect Michel Fuzeau said more bodies might still be found in the wreckage and under the tilted carriage, but the rescue team's dogs had not detected any more casualties.
The train crashed only a few days after the government unveiled details of planned investments in the rail network.
Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said the accident could have been worse if the driver had not reacted quickly to avoid hitting another train 200 metres away.
"Everything was fine and then all of a sudden it was if we were riding through gravel," said 17-year-old passenger Clement. "Then the wagon in front of me started to tilt over."
France has suffered several train crashes in the past few decades. One of the deadliest was in 1988, when a commuter train headed into Paris's Gare de Lyon crashed into a stationary train, killing 56 people. In 2002, fire swept through the carriages of a Paris-Vienna overnight sleeper in eastern France, killing 12.