We’ve been asked by several readers if we know anything about the temporary closure of the line between Perpignan and Villefranche-le-Conflent.
The line was closed after the fatal accident at Millas when a school bus was hit by a TER train in December 2017. The judge conducting the enquiry ordered that the line remains closed until he has the results of a re-run of the events to find out exactly what happened.
The driver of the school bus said that the level crossing gates were up when approaching the crossing, SNCF state that the gates were down and that their safety system was working correctly.
We asked our roving reporter and train expert, Chris Elliott, about the issue, and why the line remains closed.
I can only assume that because of the weeks of rail strikes with the TERs here in the South being affected more than in other regions, the test has not yet been carried out or the findings published.
I have seen a YouTube video showing a similar Polish TER crossing a level crossing when the gates were up. In theory this should not be possible, but the proof is out there, so I assume that the judge is just not satisfied with SNCF’s statements.
However, it is utterly unacceptable that the line can remain closed. There are horrendous pile-ups involving buses or coaches on motorways, but no-one has ever suggested that a motorway should be closed for many months.
What should happen is that the local press, users and railway staff should be shouting from the roof tops to get the line re-opened! We should also demand that accidents like this be investigated with the same rigour as those railway accidents not involving road vehicles, and to explore lessons learnt and measures to improve safety after each major accident.
As to whether this lack of action is a pre-cursor to a closure, it may well be a tactic prior to privatisation, due in about two years, being used by SNCF to get the region Occitanie to take on the responsibility of financing and operating the line. Sadly SNCF use old out-of-date trains, and like the Béziers to Bedarieux line the service is so bad that it just does not encourage anyone to leave their car at home.