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The French train crash which left six people dead may have been caused by a fault in the rail tracks, says SNCF, the state rail company.

SNCF said a metal bar connecting two rails had become detached close to Bretigny-sur-Orge station.

Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier has praised the driver, saying his quick actions averted a worse accident.

Those killed were four men and two women, aged between 19 and 82. Thirty people were injured, eight seriously.

A minute’s silence was held across France’s train network at noon on Saturday to commemorate the victims.

The train had just left Paris on Friday afternoon and was heading for Limoges when it derailed at Bretigny-sur-Orge at 17:14 on Friday.

Transport routes were particularly busy at the time, as France began a long weekend for Bastille Day.

Six carriages derailed as the train passed through the station at 137 km/h (85 mph). The train’s third and fourth carriages derailed first and the others followed. One mounted the station platform.

Giving its initial findings, SNCF management told reporters the connector had worked its way loose and become detached at points 200 m outside Bretigny station.

The French train crash which left six people dead may have been caused by a fault in the rail tracks

The French train crash which left six people dead may have been caused by a fault in the rail tracks

“It moved into the centre of the switch and in this position it prevented the normal passage of the train’s wheels and it may have caused the derailment,” Pierre Izard, SNCF’s general manager for infrastructure, told reporters.

The inquiry is now expected to focus on how the piece of metal had become detached.

Checks are being carried out on some 5,000 similar connections across the whole of the rail network.

A crane has arrived on site to lift a carriage which was left on its side.

Regional government head Michel Fuzeau said there was a possibility that more bodies could be found underneath, but that there was “no hope of finding anyone wounded”.

Aside from SNCF, investigations are being conducted by judicial authorities and France’s BEA safety agency.

Frederic Cuvillier said the driver had “absolutely extraordinary reflexes in that he sounded the alarm immediately, preventing a collision with another train coming in the opposite direction and which would have hit the derailing carriages within seconds”.

SNCF said 385 passengers were on board when the train crashed and the station platforms were crowded.

Local media said a group of people had attempted to steal from the victims and rescuers shortly after the crash and threw stones at emergency workers as they tried to reach passengers.

However, later Frederic Cuvillier said there had only been “isolated acts”, including an attempt to steal a mobile phone – although small groups had given the rescuers a “somewhat rough welcome”.

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