6 March 2020

The landslide-induced TGV (high speed train) accident in France yesterday

Posted by Dave Petley

The landslide-induced TGV (high speed train) accident in France yesterday

Yesterday, 5 March 2020, a TGV (high speed train) struck a landslide between Strasburg and Vendenheim in the Bas-Rhin area of France.  The train remained upright, not least because it appears that it was a glancing blow rather than a direct collision, but 22 people were injured, one seriously.  The best news report, with thanks to Scott Johnson, is in L’Usine Nouvelle.  The article is in French, but Google Translate does a fine job.

This image of the landslide was tweeted by SNCF:-

The 5 March 2020 landslide that derailed a TGV

The 5 March 2020 landslide that derailed a TGV (high speed train) in France. Image Tweeted by SNCF.


The landslide is a large rotational slip in a slope in a cutting.  The displacement of the mid-section is quite large, but little of the debris appears to have reached the tracks.  This prevented a more serious accident.  The train, which had 348 passengers on board, was travelling 270 kilometres per hour (170 miles per hour) at the time of the collision.

The line is quite new – Wikipedia indicates that it was constructed in the period between 2010 and 2016.  A failure on this scale will inevitably cause concern, and is surprising.  News reports indicate that the landslide was triggered by heavy rainfall. Interestingly, this is being described as an “accident intolerable” – i.e. an unacceptable accident – by the local trade union.

After the accident, the train came to a stop at about 48.729, 7.514, based on matching images to Google Earth.  The accident must have been to the southeast of this point.  The most likely location appears to be 48.719, 7.538, but this is very tentative.

Landslide-induced train accidents occur fairly often around the world, sometimes with very serious consequences.  It is very unusual for an accident to affect a modern high speed line, especially in well-designed earthworks, which would typically have been constructed with a c.125 year design life. Thus, understanding the causes of this accident will be a priority.