MADRID (AP) — The driver was on the phone with a colleague
and apparently looking at a document as his train barreled ahead at 95 mph
(153 kph) — almost twice the speed limit. Suddenly, a notorious curve was
hit the brakes too late.
train, carrying 218 passengers in eight carriages, hurtled off the tracks
and slammed into a concrete wall, killing 79 people.
Tuesday, investigators looking into the crash announced their preliminary
findings from analysis of the train's data-recording "black boxes,"
suggesting that human error appears to be the cause of Spain's worst
railway disaster in decades.
derailment occurred near Santiago de Compostela, a city in northwestern
Spain, late last Wednesday. Some 66 people injured in the crash are still
hospitalized, 15 of them in critical condition.
accident cast a pall over the city, which is the last stop for the
faithful who make it to the end of the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage
route that has drawn Christians since the Middle Ages. The crash occurred
on the eve of annual festivities at the shrine, which subsequently were
disaster also stunned the rest of Spain, with Spanish royals and political
leaders joining hundreds of people in Santiago de Compostela's storied
12th-century cathedral Monday evening to mourn the dead.
According to the investigation so far, train driver Francisco Jose Garzon
Amo received a call from an official of national rail company Renfe on his
work phone in the cabin, not his personal cellphone, to tell him what
approach to take toward his final destination.
Renfe employee on the telephone "appears to be a controller," a person who
organizes train traffic across the rail network, said a statement from a
court in Santiago de Compostela, where the investigation is based. "From
the contents of the conversation and from the background noise it seems
that the driver (was) consulting a plan or similar paper document."
train had been going as fast as 119 mph (192 kph) shortly before the
derailment, and the driver activated the brakes "seconds before the
crash," according to the statement. The speed limit on the section of
track where the crash happened was 50 mph (80 kph).
Authorities have said that a high-tech automatic braking program called
the European Rail Traffic Management System was installed on most of the
high-speed track leading from Madrid north to Santiago de Compostela — the
route Garzon's train took. But the cutting-edge coverage stops just 5
kilometers (3 miles) south of where the crash occurred, placing a greater
burden on the driver to take charge.
Spanish rail company has said the brakes should have been applied four
kilometers (2.5 miles) before the train hit the curve.
court spokeswoman told The Associated Press that the boxes "did not
indicate any technical failures" contributed to the accident. She spoke on
condition of anonymity because court regulations bar her from identifying
herself by name.
Garzon was provisionally charged Sunday with multiple counts of negligent
homicide. He was not sent to jail or required to post bail because none of
the parties involved felt there was a risk of him fleeing or attempting to
destroy evidence, according to a court statement.
Investigators from the court, forensic police experts, the Ministry of
Transport and Renfe examined the contents of the two black boxes recovered
from the lead and rear cars of the train.
the investigation is ongoing. The next steps include measuring the wheels
on the cars and examining the locomotive, the statement said, without
providing an explanation for those checks.
Sniffer dogs will also be used to search for human remains in the
wreckage, it said.