News Column

Spanish Authorities Investigate Driver in Deadly Train Crash

July 25, 2013

The driver of a Spanish high-speed train that derailed, killing at least 80 people, was named Thursday as a suspect in one of Europe's worst rail accidents.

A court in Santiago de Compostela ordered police to question Francisco Jose Garzon, 52, who had admitted to driving at 190 kilometres/per hour on a curve where the speed limit was 80 km/hr.

The train carrying 218 passengers from Madrid to Ferrol derailed and split apart late Wednesday at Angrois, about 4 kilometres from the regional capital, Santiago de Compostela.

Officials confirmed that the number of dead had risen from 78 to 80. Ninety-five injured people remained in hospital. Thirty-six of them, including four children, were in critical condition.

The injured included several citizens of the United States and the United Kingdom, the two countries' embassies said.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who visited the accident scene and the injured in hospital, said both the government and the judiciary were investigating the causes of the tragedy.

The driver had boasted on Facebook that he sometimes defied controls by driving trains at 200 km/hr, the daily El Pais reported.

Garzon, who has 30 years of experience, suffered only minor injuries.

The stretch of track on which the train was travelling did not have an automatic cab signalling system, which would have stopped it in the event of excessive speed, representatives of the engine drivers' union said.

They also criticized the route of the train, which was based on a conventional - instead of high-speed - rail line and included a steep curve.

The rail management company said the train's security systems were adequate.

The train was running five minutes late, but the drivers' union said there was no pressure on staff to speed up in such cases.

The train had been inspected the day before the accident, sources at the rail company Renfe said.

People fearing for their loved ones are still waiting for about half of the fatalities to be identified. Some of the bodies were so disfigured that identification was difficult.

Forensic experts called for DNA tests, while police examined the contents of suitcases strewn on the track to speed up the identification process.

Passengers included holidaymakers and pilgrims travelling to weekend festivities in Santiago de Compostela.

All of the carriages left the rails, the rear engine caught fire, and one of the wagons was hurled 15 metres. Wagons that were ripped open or smashed on top of each other were scattered around.

"We heard a noise, enormous, like never before. We went down there and saw that the convoy had split in two," said a witness.

One of the survivors, Raul Fariza, said he felt the train derail and then saw dozens of bodies on the floor, including that of his wife.

"The impact tore her scalp off and she was soaked in blood," though she was still alive, he told El Pais.

Local residents rushed to the site, bringing water and blankets and smashing wagon windows with stones to help those trapped inside.

Public administrations around Spain, including parliament, observed a moment of silence. King Juan Carlos said the accident filled him with pain and sadness. The king and Queen Sofia are visiting Santiago de Compostela to meet victims' families.

Spain has decreed three days of mourning, and messages of condolence were sent from all over the world.

The rail accident was the worst in Spain since 1972, when a collision between two trains claimed 86 lives near Seville. The worst train accident in the country's history killed up to 800 people in 1944.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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