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French rail network "rundown" but being repaired: minister

Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier admitted Monday that France's rail network had become "extremely rundown" but insisted safety problems that led to a fatal accident last year were being addressed.

PARIS: Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier admitted Monday that France's rail network had become "extremely rundown" but insisted safety problems that led to a fatal accident last year were being addressed.

Cuvillier was speaking a day after it emerged that experts probing last July's derailment of a train outside Paris had uncovered "a state of disrepair never seen before" on the network.

The minister said that since the accident, which left seven people dead, authorities had launched a modernisation drive and had checked the entire network for faulty infrastructure.

Asked about the liability of state-owned rail operator SNCF and track management company RFF in the July 12 accident in Bretigny-sur-Orge, he said both would "have to answer... to a procedure that has been initiated and to an investigation that is ongoing".

According to the Le Figaro daily, experts appointed by a court to find the cause of the derailment have ruled out a malicious act, but found more than 200 problems relating to the part of the track where the crash occurred and that the damage took place "over several months".

The experts concluded that "most of these problems were known to SNCF" and were not repaired adequately.

SNCF and RFF were quick to rebut the alleged findings on Sunday.

In a joint statement, the companies said they "categorically contest" that the rail network was in a state of disrepair, and urged "the greatest caution" in interpreting extracts of the report published by the press.

"The French rail network is the object of maintenance at a very high level and constant monitoring," the two companies said.

The presidents of RFF and SNCF are due to speak to the press at 1500 GMT on Monday.

The SNCF has blamed the accident -- which saw an intercity train derail as it sped through the station, crashing into the platform -- on a connecting bar that had come loose at a rail switchpoint.

Shortly after the accident, a judicial inquiry was opened to investigate whether charges of involuntary homicide should be made.

The conclusions of the forensic experts have been made public just a few days before the first anniversary of the disaster. A memorial service for those killed in the crash is scheduled for Saturday in Bretigny.

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