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Crane to clear train tracks in deadly French crash

  • Railway's employees are seen on the scene where a train derailed at a station in Bretigny sur Orge, south of Paris, Saturday, July 13, 2013. A packed passenger train skidded off its rails after leaving Paris on Friday, leaving seven people believed dead and dozens injured as train cars slammed into each other and overturned, authorities said. France's transport minister says human error did not cause the train derailment. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

    Railway's employees are seen on the scene where a train derailed at a station in Bretigny sur Orge, south of Paris, Saturday, July 13, 2013. A packed passenger train skidded off its rails after leaving Paris on Friday, leaving seven people believed dead and dozens injured as train cars slammed into each other and overturned, authorities said. France's transport minister says human error did not cause the train derailment. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

  • Railway's employees are seen on the scene where a train derailed at a station in Bretigny sur Orge, south of Paris, Saturday, July 13, 2013. An official on Saturday said a faulty rail joint may have caused a train derailment outside Paris that left six people dead and injured dozens. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

    Railway's employees are seen on the scene where a train derailed at a station in Bretigny sur Orge, south of Paris, Saturday, July 13, 2013. An official on Saturday said a faulty rail joint may have caused a train derailment outside Paris that left six people dead and injured dozens. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

  • A railway worker walks next to a train which derailed at a station in Bretigny-sur-Orge, south of Paris, Saturday, July 13, 2013. An official on Saturday said a faulty rail joint may have caused a train derailment outside Paris that left six people dead and injured dozens. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

    A railway worker walks next to a train which derailed at a station in Bretigny-sur-Orge, south of Paris, Saturday, July 13, 2013. An official on Saturday said a faulty rail joint may have caused a train derailment outside Paris that left six people dead and injured dozens. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

  • Railways workers are seen at the site where a train derailed at a station in Bretigny-sur-Orge, south of Paris, Saturday, July 13, 2013. An official on Saturday said a faulty rail joint may have caused a train derailment outside Paris that left six people dead and injured dozens. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

    Railways workers are seen at the site where a train derailed at a station in Bretigny-sur-Orge, south of Paris, Saturday, July 13, 2013. An official on Saturday said a faulty rail joint may have caused a train derailment outside Paris that left six people dead and injured dozens. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

  • Railway's employees are seen on the scene where a train derailed at a station in Bretigny sur Orge, south of Paris, Saturday, July 13, 2013. A packed passenger train skidded off its rails after leaving Paris on Friday, leaving seven people believed dead and dozens injured as train cars slammed into each other and overturned, authorities said. France's transport minister says human error did not cause the train derailment. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
  • Railway's employees are seen on the scene where a train derailed at a station in Bretigny sur Orge, south of Paris, Saturday, July 13, 2013. An official on Saturday said a faulty rail joint may have caused a train derailment outside Paris that left six people dead and injured dozens. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
  • A railway worker walks next to a train which derailed at a station in Bretigny-sur-Orge, south of Paris, Saturday, July 13, 2013. An official on Saturday said a faulty rail joint may have caused a train derailment outside Paris that left six people dead and injured dozens. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
  • Railways workers are seen at the site where a train derailed at a station in Bretigny-sur-Orge, south of Paris, Saturday, July 13, 2013. An official on Saturday said a faulty rail joint may have caused a train derailment outside Paris that left six people dead and injured dozens. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

A powerful crane started lifting smashed train cars over buildings yesterday to clear a railway line after a derailment killed six people and injured nearly 200 south of Paris in what investigators believe may have been a case of equipment failure, authorities said.

Human error has been ruled out by France’s transport minister and the focus of the investigation is on a detached piece of metal in a switching joint on the tracks. The national rail company, SNCF, has already taken blame for Friday evening’s crash at Bretigny-Sur-Orge station, which occurred at the start of a busy holiday weekend.

“The SNCF considers itself responsible,” rail company chief Guillaume Pepy said. “It is responsible for the lives of its clients.”

The packed train, carrying about 385 passengers, was traveling below the speed limit at 85 mph when it derailed, skidded and slammed into the station platform in the small town outside the capital. It was 20 minutes into a scheduled three-hour trip to Limoges in central France.

The 700-ton crane, sent from northern France, towered over small buildings that surround the railway station to begin work on clearing the tracks.

The operation is an “extraordinarily difficult technique given that we are in a train station,” Pepy said. “For the moment, we don’t know how long it could take.” He said the operation could last through today, which is the Bastille Day holiday, and into tomorrow, stressing the crane’s operators will be careful and slow in lifting the cars.

While the death toll hasn’t budged since hours after the crash and there haven’t been any reports of missing or unaccounted for people, the governor of the Essonne region, Michel Fuzeau, said that until an overturned train car is lifted by the crane, it was impossible to know if there could be more people trapped under it.

“This is only a hypothesis and we hope it’s not (the case),” he told reporters.

Pepy said investigators found that a 22-pound piece of metal he compared to a staple between two rails in a switching system, which guides trains from one track to another, seems to have “detached itself from the rails, lifted and constituted the initial cause of the derailment.”

Investigators were looking into how this happened since another train had traveled safely through the station about 30 minutes before. In addition, they were trying to determine why the train’s third car was the first to derail.

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