World Notes FRANCE

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Near the end of the evening rush hour, the engineer of commuter train No. 153951 peered down the tracks of Paris' Gare de Lyon and screamed in horror: another train was bearing down on him at high speed. Seconds later, the runaway train rammed 153951 at more than 50 m.p.h., turning it into a maze of shredded steel. The collision last week was the worst rail accident in Paris history and one of the worst ever in France. The toll: 56 dead and 13 seriously injured.

The runaway train had had an uneventful trip along the 35-mile commuter line from Melun to Paris until the brakes failed just outside the Gare de Lyon, a major commuter hub. Firemen, doctors and paramedics worked for 20 hours to save the injured and retrieve the dead. "I tried to lift someone up by the shoulders," said a young fireman. "His torso came off in my arms." Said Mayor Jacques Chirac after visiting the scene: "It is incomprehensible."