Engineer – Driver In Fatal Spanish Train Crash Is Arrested

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain — The train driver did little to hide his taste for speed. He posted a photograph of a locomotive speedometer needle stuck at 200 kilometers per hour, or about 125 miles m.p.h., on Facebook last year, boasting that the reading “has not been tampered with” and openly relishing the idea of racing past the authorities.

“Imagine what a rush it would be traveling alongside the Civil Guard, and passing them so that their speed traps go off,” he wrote, in all capitals. “Hehe, that would be quite a fine for Renfe, hehe,” referring to his employer, the Spanish rail company.

The train driver, Francisco José Garzón Amo, a veteran with more than three decades of experience, was arrested on Friday, and investigators were examining records from the train’s “black box,” or data recorder, to determine how it smashed into a curved wall and careered off the track on Wednesday, killing 78 people and leaving dozens injured.

On Friday, Jaime Iglesias, a national police force commander in Galicia, said the authorities had the black box data from the train, which was traveling between Madrid r and Ferrol, in northwestern Spain, and crashed outside Santiago de Compostela. But he could not say how long it would take to determine the cause of the crash, one of Europe’s worst recent rail disasters, or to verify reports that the train was traveling at twice the speed limit.

Mr. Iglesias said the death toll had been revised down to 78 from 80 after the identification of bodies. Those killed include an American, an Algerian and a Mexican, he said.

As seen in a chilling video from a security camera, the passenger train rounded a curve at high speed on Wednesday night, tumbling violently off the track, slamming against a curved wall and piling up in a twisted wreck.

On Thursday, Spanish news media reported that the driver had said the train’s speed had been about 120 miles per hour, more than double the limit in the stretch of track where the train derailed. On the day of the wreck, he took over from another driver just 60 miles before the crash, according to Spanish news reports.

The train was almost full, carrying more than 200 passengers and merrymakers returning to the region for a special holiday on Thursday. July 25 is the feast day for St. James the Apostle, the patron saint of Spain, who for centuries has inspired pilgrims to walk El Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James. The pilgrimage has had a burst of popularity in recent years, drawing walkers from around the world.

After the crash, the city of Santiago de Compostela canceled its extensive celebration and the authorities urged people to donate blood. Thousands made a very different kind of pilgrimage to the site of the disaster, watching as rescuers used cranes and trucks to hoist the engines of the wrecked train. All — children, teenagers and older people — stood in funereal silence.

Nearby, in a building where an information center had been set up, police officers kept the victims’ families from the public eye. Some walked around the building in tears, hugging and comforting one another, while others grew frustrated waiting to see their loved ones.

“Now, at 9:30 p.m., is when they allowed us to go and see our family member,” said María, a relative of a victim who did not want her full name used. “Twenty-four hours waiting, in these conditions. That’s too much.”

Most high-speed lines that are part of the European rail traffic system are covered by a GPS-based surveillance network that constantly monitors trains’ speed and automatically brakes them at speed limits.

Slower trains and trains crossing urban areas in Spain and other countries use a less intrusive system that warns the driver with sound and lights at excessive speeds, but does not automatically brake the train, said María Carmen Palao, a spokeswoman for Spain’s ADIF rail infrastructure company.

The accident, she said, took place two to three miles outside the station at Santiago de Compostela, in the “transition zone” between the two systems. The wreck occurred on the Galicia line, run by the rail operator Renfe and opened in 2011.

The Spanish newspaper El País reported that people at the train company said alcohol had not been found in Mr. Garzón’s system, but the security video showing the train barreling into the turn and abruptly careening off the rails quickly raised concerns that he was traveling too fast.

Even in his Facebook message, posted in 2012 but removed late Thursday morning, Mr. Garzón elicited some astounded comments from friends.

“Dude, you’re going full speed, braaaaake,” one commenter wrote.

“Christ, you’re doing 200km/h,” another said.

Read the rest of the story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/27/world/europe/spain-train-crash.html?_r=0

Silvia Taulés reported from Santiago de Compostela, and Doreen Carvajal from Paris. Stephen Castle contributed reporting from London, and Caroline Brothers from Paris.

Source: New York Times

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