400,000 euros fine required against SNCF

400,000 euros fine required against SNCF
400,000 euros fine required against SNCF

The prosecution requested on Monday May 13, 2024 a fine of 400,000 euros against the SNCF at the trial of the TGV Est accident which led to the death of 11 people and left 42 injured in Alsace on November 14, 2015.

Suspended prison sentences and heavy fines were requested on Monday May 13, 2024 at the trial of the TGV Est accident which led to the death of 11 people and left 42 injured in Alsace on November 14, 2015.

The public prosecutor denounced a “collective blindness” in the overspeed tests and highlighted “the shared responsibility” of five of the six defendants tried before the Paris Criminal Court for homicide and involuntary injuries due to clumsiness, imprudence, negligence or breach of a security obligation.

The prosecutor requested a one-year suspended prison sentence against the driver of the train Denis T. and two years suspended prison sentence against Francis L., the executive responsible for giving him braking and acceleration instructions. The magistrate, however, ruled out any “criminal liability” against Philippe B., the technician from Systra – the company responsible for the tests – responsible for informing the driver about the particularities of the track.

“Faults” and “failures in training”

It was against the three legal entities (SNCF, SNCF-Réseau and Systra) that Nicolas Hennebelle was most severe. “Systra has the greatest responsibility” in the accident, said the prosecutor, demanding a fine of 225,000 euros, the legal maximum, against it.

“I regret that the legal maximum does not live up to” the “unspeakable pain” of the victims, added the prosecutor.

Systra “failed in its mission of evaluating and implementing security,” the prosecutor said. He requested a penalty of 200,000 euros, multiplied by two “due to the state of legal recidivism”, or 400,000 euros, against the SNCF and a fine of 150,000 euros, multiplied by two also due to the state of recidivism legal, i.e. 300,000 euros, against SNCF-Réseau.

“Everything seems to have been done to endanger the driving of the train,” affirmed the magistrate in his requisitions.

He noted “mistakes”, “failures in training” and even “problems in the organization and coordination of tests” on the part of the three companies involved. He castigated “absurd decisions”, a “lack of rationality” and “excessive trust in each other”.

The investigation established that neither the equipment nor the track could be blamed to explain the derailment of the TGV, which was transporting 53 people, including 35 “guests”. Excessive speed and late braking were the cause of an accident that all the protagonists considered “unthinkable”, recalled the prosecutor.

“Big mistake”

The TGV, which was carrying out tests on the final portion of the high-speed line between Paris and Strasbourg before opening to the public, approached a curve at 265 km/h, well above the 176 km/h planned for this place.

It derailed 200 meters further, hitting the parapet of the bridge above the Marne-Rhine canal near Eckwersheim (Bas-Rhin), 20 km from Strasbourg, at an estimated speed of 243 km/h .

According to Nicolas Hennebelle, the driver “committed a gross error” by proposing “to brake at a time when it was impossible”. The magistrate also underlined the “recklessness” of the executive who accompanied him for having determined “a braking strategy without any safety margin”.

Throughout the two-month hearing, the defendants shifted responsibility for the accident to each other, without admitting the slightest fault. The Systra representative affirmed that his company had “fulfilled all of its obligations”. Only that of the SNCF ended up conceding “we were bad”.

The defense will be given the floor on Tuesday and Thursday (there is no hearing on Wednesday). On Tuesday, the lawyers of the three individuals will plead. On Thursday, it will be the turn of the lawyers of the three companies involved. All the defense lawyers planned to plead for the release of their client. The court’s decision is expected to be rendered in the coming months.

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