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Brake Problems Discovered 40 Minutes Before Crash

June 29, 1988

PARIS (AP) _ Investigators tried today to reconstruct the 40 minutes between the discovery of brake problems on a Paris-bound commuter train and its collision with a crowded train, which killed 59 people.

The state-run rail company, SNCF, said the engineer realized his brakes weren’t working when he was more than a mile away from the busy Gare de Lyon station and warned passengers to get to the back of the train.

The brake trouble on the eight-car train began five miles outside the station after a passenger pulled the emergency stop at Vert de Maisons, an unscheduled station, at about 6:30 p.m. Monday, the company said. It wasn’t known why the passenger pulled the cord.

After a 26-minute delay there, the train continued on toward Paris. But the brake problems continued, and a mile from the station engineer Daniel Saulin appeared unable to stop the train.

Saulin, 42, alerted the station controller and then his passengers as the train rushed at 40-50 mph through a stop signal 600 yards from impact.

Rail officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the station controller did not have time to reroute the train and it slammed into the stationary four-car train at 7:10 p.m.

Normal procedure would have been for the arriving train to stop at the 600- yard signal and get directions to the appropriate track.

Through the night and into Tuesday morning, 250 rescue workers struggled to free the injured. The number of bodies grew steadily and the crash became Paris’ worst train disaster.

SNCF reported 59 dead. Paris emergency services said 38 were injured.

SNCF, the Transport Ministry and judicial authorities are each conducting their own investigation into the crash, said Philippe Rouvillois, director general of the rail company.

″There is a tie, the nature of which we do not yet know, between the use of the alarm signal (emergency stop), which had immobilized the train a short time before ... and the catastrophe,″ SNCF official Roger Gerin told a news conference. ″The origin of the accident was difficulties with the braking system but we do not know the exact cause.″

SNCF officials said Saulin, realizing about a mile from the Gare de Lyon that he could not stop, was able to slow down slightly by using an emergency brake.

Gerin said Saulin’s train had made 15 stops along its route and that the brakes worked normally at each.

After the passenger pulled the emergency stop, ″the engineer experienced difficulty in trying to re-arm the brake system, but he resumed his trip,″ Gerin said. He gave no details about the brake problem.

A passenger on the train, Laure Cocu, told the French daily Liberation that while the train was stopped at the unscheduled station she heard a noise like the release of air from the train’s pneumatic brakes.

″We heard a rush of air, a little like the noise in a factory,″ she told the newspaper. ″Some passengers in my car got off. My colleague saw the conductor and the engineeer by the side of the train looking under the car.

″My colleague heard the engineer say, ’The brakes are blocked at the back.‴

The engineer on the train in the station, Andre Tanguy, was killed in the crash. Francis Boulanger, SNCF spokesman, said earlier reports that he escaped might have resulted from confusion with other railroad employees who jumped from the train. Boulanger said Tanguy was one of seven employees who died.

Asked whether the age of the train might have been a factor, Gerin said trains undergo maintenance four times a year in addition to routine checks and this particular train had been checked just days before the crash.

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