GENEVA — Swiss police began an investigation Saturday into a fatal train accident in which a 64-year-old Japanese woman died and 40 others, mostly Japanese tourists, were injured, two of them critically.
The accident occurred Friday in the alpine canton of Valais in southern Switzerland.
In a statement released Saturday morning, the Valais police said 40 individuals, of whom 28 were Japanese, required treatment in Geneva, Lausanne and local hospitals.
In Japan, All Nippon Airways Co. said the woman, from Hyogo Prefecture, was the only fatality after the last three cars of the six-car Glacier Express sightseeing train derailed at 11:50 a.m. Friday. ANA said about 10 people suffered severe injuries.
Rail accidents are rare in Switzerland. The Glacier Express — dubbed the “slowest express train in the world” — is known for its majestic mountain climbs and its average speed of 30 kph.
Valais authorities said two of the train cars drove off the tracks and a third tipped over, but the cause of the accident wasn’t immediately known. The derailment took place near the town of Fiesch and the mouth of the Aletsch glacier.
“For the time being there are no hypotheses” as to the cause of the accident, a police spokesperson said.
He said the cause was difficult to determine as the train derailed on a small incline during a light turn.
According to Japanese travel companies, at least 77 Japanese were taking tours on the train. Two women from Kanagawa and Chiba prefectures, ages 71 and 62, were in critical condition and remained unconscious.
ANA said the 64-year-old woman was among 14 tourists and one guide on an eight-day tour of Switzerland arranged by ANA Sales Co.
It added that family members of the victims are set to leave for Switzerland.
Also in Japan, tour operator JTB Corp. said 22 people on one of its tours were in the accident. Seventeen were transported to hospitals and 12 required hospitalization.
The tourists on both the ANA and the JTB tours were mostly age 50 or older. ANA said local staffers and a London-based employee were heading to the accident site, and that it was making arrangements to dispatch staffers from Tokyo if needed.
“It’s extremely regrettable that such an accident occurred and we would like to express our condolences” to the victim and her family, ANA Sales President Osamu Asakawa said Saturday in a news conference in Tokyo.
Hankyu Travel International Co. said 40 people on its tour were on the derailed train and one of them suffered an injury to his head while the others, who were not on any of the derailed cars, were left unhurt.
At least 150 people were involved in the rescue operation, a police spokesman said.
Local media in Switzerland pointed to the possibility that the rails might have been distorted by a sudden temperature change, saying the weather cooled down abruptly during the past several days following a hot spell. The Tribune de Geneve said in its online edition that a number of passengers rushed to one side of the train trying to take landscape pictures just prior to the derailment.
Rail traffic remained closed near the accident site Friday evening and local police were investigating.
The 80-year-old Glacier Express runs several times a day all year round, carrying some 250,000 passengers a year.
The 7 1/2-hour journey of the Glacier Express, in cars with specially fitted large windows, begins in Zermatt and crosses the Swiss Alps to St. Moritz.
In a statement, Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn, the company that runs the train line, expressed its condolences to the families.
Thomas Werlen, head of corporate communications, said that there had been some work in June on the tracks “around” where the accident occurred, but the company was still unsure whether it was at the same place. Werlen said the accident was the worst in the history of the company, which started business in 1930.
The accident was the country’s worst rail mishap since 2006, when three men died after a runaway train traveled for several kilometers without brakes before crashing into another train.