French Train Crash Caused by Human Error

French rail officials say that “human error has already been ruled out” as a cause of the train crash that killed six people last week. But it was a human error, or at least a political error: the error was for the government to put most available resources into building new high-speed rail lines while it let existing lines deteriorate.

Officially, the cause of the crash was a piece of a switch that apparently broke while the train was going through the switch. But that probably happened because the piece that broke was old and worn out.

While the French Transport Minister claimed that “there was no indication that a lack of investment in maintaining the system’s infrastructure was at fault” for this particular crash, he admitted that most of the conventional rail infrastructure is more than 30 years old, meaning it needs to be replaced. “The situation is severe,” the minister added, “with the degradation in recent years of traditional train lines, due to a lack of resources.”

France is spending 400 million euros this year on capital replacement of its conventional rail system. That sounds like a lot, but it spent more than twice that much last year just buying thirty new high-speed rail trainsets.

So the politicians want to have it both ways: the crash isn’t their fault, but they want to use the crash as an excuse to increase spending on rail infrastructure. Maybe if they contented themselves with spending only on rail infrastructure that actually pays for itself without tax subsidies, both taxpayers and rail riders would be happy.

Share

2 thoughts on “French Train Crash Caused by Human Error

  1. C. P. Zilliacus

    The Antiplanner wrote:

    So the politicians want to have it both ways: the crash isn’t their fault, but they want to use the crash as an excuse to increase spending on rail infrastructure. Maybe if they contented themselves with spending only on rail infrastructure that actually pays for itself without tax subsidies, both taxpayers and rail riders would be happy.

    Are there enough rail passengers in France to make that possible?

    As an aside, I watched the Tour de France segment yesterday (Bastille Day) that terminated in a very long and very steep and very tough ascent of Mount Ventoux in Provence (the summit is high enough that it is above the tree line, reminded me of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington).

    As is the practice along Tour routes, there were fans all along this ascent watching and cheering the passing cyclists (furiously pedaling). What caught my attention was how many of the thousands of people along the route had gotten there in motorhomes, many of them pretty big. I think it’s safe to assume that the motor home users were not patrons of SNCF, the French government-owned rail company.

  2. msetty

    Funny how The Antiplanner complains about capital spending in France, but ignores this story about how the “privatized” railways of England are running up the rail system’s debt to the stratosphere, http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/jul/15/network-rail-debts-watchdog.

    Perhaps the British story sends the wrong message: e.g., “privatization” is no guarantee of savings to taxpayers, and often costs are higher, at least the way the British do things (makes one wonder about the Yankees, too).

Leave a Reply