Span­ish train crash probed

Driver un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter de­rail­ment kills at least 78

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD -

SAN­TI­AGO DE COM­POSTELA: Span­ish po­lice were in­ves­ti­gat­ing yes­ter­day if the driver of a train that crashed in San­ti­ago de Com­postela killing dozens had been driv­ing at reck­less speed when he took a tight curve.

Spain’s worst train crash in decades on Wed­nes­day evening killed at least 78, with six bod­ies still uniden­ti­fied and 95 peo­ple in hos­pi­tal, im­me­di­ately rais­ing ques­tions about why an ex­pe­ri­enced driver was trav­el­ling so fast into a sharp bend.

The driver, Fran­cisco Gar­zon, 52, was un­der ar­rest in a hos­pi­tal in the city in north­west­ern Spain and was due to give a state­ment to po­lice.

Gar­zon was be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for crim­i­nal be­hav­iour in caus­ing the ac­ci­dent and “reck­less­ness”, re­gional po­lice chief Jaime Igle­sias said.

A spokes­woman for the supreme court in the Gali­cia re­gion said Gar­zon had not yet been charged and ev­i­dence in­clud­ing the train’s “black box” was be­ing as­sem­bled.

“We’re col­lect­ing ele­ments to be used as ev­i­dence, videos, au­dios and all the tech­ni­cal work that is be­ing done on the train,” she said.

Renfe, the Span­ish state train com­pany, said Gar­zon was a 30-year com­pany vet­eran who had been driv­ing for a decade. He was highly qual­i­fied and had been driv­ing on the line where the ac­ci­dent took place for about a year.

On the morn­ing of the tragedy, he had driven a train on the same line, which con­nects La Coruna with Madrid, and a Renfe spokesman said he knew ev­ery twist and turn of the route.

It has been widely re­ported that he took a sharp curve with an 80km/h speed limit at more than twice that speed.

The driver was not avail­able for comment and Reuters was not able to lo­cate his fam­ily or de­ter­mine whether he has a lawyer.

An­other train driver on that line told Cadena Ser ra­dio that the blame should not be put on his col­league.

“There is no se­cu­rity warn­ing for the speed, it’s pure hu­man fac­tor, you have to slow down man­u­ally and you have no as­sis­tance in the cabin,” said Manuel Mato.

“When you exit the high­speed sec­tion you start slow­ing down... you have like 4km to the curve,” he added.

While po­lice and a judge were look­ing into po­ten­tial neg­li­gence on the part of the driver, the Pub­lic Works Min­istry launched a more tech­ni­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Renfe and Adif, the state track op­er­a­tor, be­gan their own probes.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors wanted to know why the train was go­ing so fast. Did the driver fail to heed speed lim­its? Did brakes fail? What about the safety sys­tem meant to force the train or the driver to slow down if go­ing too fast?

Se­cu­rity video footage showed the train, with 247 peo­ple on board, hurtling into a con­crete wall at the side of the track as car­riages jack-knifed and the engine over­turned.

The im­pact was so strong that one car­riage flew over a wall and landed on an em­bank­ment sev­eral me­tres above.

The train, made by Bom­bardier and Talgo, was a se­ries 730 that Renfe uses for its Alvia ser­vice, which is faster than con­ven­tional trains but not as fast as the AVE trains that criss-cross Spain.

The train was built in 20072009, but re­mod­elled last year to use diesel.

It is de­signed to op­er­ate on con­ven­tional and high-speed tracks that make use of two dif­fer­ent types of safety sys­tems that are meant to reg­u­late ex­ces­sive speed.

On high-speed lines, trains use the Euro­pean Train Con­trol Sys­tem which au­to­mat­i­cally slows down a train that is go­ing too fast.

On slower lines, trains op­er­ate un­der an older sys­tem called ASFA, a Span­ish acro­nym for Sig­nal An­nounce­ment and Au­to­matic Brak­ing, which warns the driver if a train is mov­ing too fast but does not au­to­mat­i­cally slow it.

At the site of the disas­ter, just 3km be­fore reach­ing the San­ti­ago de Com­postela sta­tion, the train was pass­ing through an ur­ban area on a steep curve. At that point of the track, two rail­way ex­perts said, it uses the older ASFA safety sys­tem.

Pro­fes­sor Roger Kemp, a Fel­low of the Royal Acad­emy of En­gi­neer­ing in Bri­tain, said in an e-mailed comment that, as the driver was leav­ing the high­speed line to join a much slower route be­fore en­ter­ing the sta­tion, there must have been at least prom­i­nent vis­ual warn­ings to re­duce speed, if not au­di­ble warn­ings and an elec­tronic speed su­per­vi­sion sys­tem.

A source close to Adif said the safety sys­tem was ap­par­ently work­ing cor­rectly and a train had passed an hour ear­lier with no prob­lems.

The train, packed with fam­i­lies vis­it­ing rel­a­tives and rev­ellers on their way to a re­li­gious fes­ti­val, was not run­ning late. It be­gan its seven-hour jour­ney to the north­ern re­gion of Gali­cia right on time and crashed at 20.41, two min­utes be­fore it was due to ar­rive. – Reuters


UN­DER SUS­PI­CION: Train driver Fran­cisco Jose Gar­zon is helped by two men af­ter his train crashed near San­ti­ago de Com­postela, north-western Spain.


RES­CUE: A woman is evac­u­ated from a train car at the site of the train ac­ci­dent in San­ti­ago de Com­postela, Spain.


DIS­COUR­AGED: Mor­gan Ts­van­gi­rai says he is par­tic­i­pat­ing in the elec­tions with a ‘heavy heart’.

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