November 20, 2015 / 12:15 PM / in 2 years

France's SNCF halts Strasbourg rail tests after fatal crash

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s SNCF railway has halted test runs on a new high-speed line to Strasbourg following a derailment that killed 11 people last weekend, delaying its likely entry into service.

French gendarmes, fire brigade and investigators work at the scene of the wreckage of a test TGV train that derailed and crashed, killing at least ten people on Saturday, in a canal outside Eckwersheim near Strasbourg, eastern France, November 15, 2015. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

“Until we have a clearer picture, the trials are suspended,” SNCF Chief Executive Guillaume Pepy told BFM television on Friday. “They will resume only once we’re certain about exactly what happened.”

The state-owned SNCF has said a total of 53 people were aboard the TGV, more than should have been taking part in a test run. The passengers included several children who were among the 42 people injured when the train plunged from a raised section of track into a field and a canal on Nov. 14.

Preliminary findings blamed excessive speed for the derailment, which occurred after the train entered a bend at 265 kilometers per hour (171 miles per hour) in breach of a 176 kph speed limit on that stretch, SNCF safety chief Christian Cochet said on Thursday.

Braking should have started “at least a kilometer earlier”, he said.

The crash deals a setback to the rollout of high-speed rail lines that are a symbol of French pride and intended to help support economic growth beyond the capital. The new section extends a high-speed line already linking Paris with destinations in eastern France and Germany.

The crash and its aftermath have been overshadowed by the previous night’s attacks in which Islamist militants killed at least 129 people in Paris.

Seven people were in the driver’s cab when the train came off the track at Eckwersheim, close to Strasbourg, the SNCF has also said. Prosecutors are to open a criminal investigation.

The opening of the line, which had been planned for April, will be delayed by “several weeks or months depending on the results of the investigation”, Pepy said on Friday.

Reporting by Laurence Frost; Editing by Keith Weir

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