Investigators will begin analyzing black boxes from deadly rail crash

Hundreds attend official funeral for the 79 victims in Santiago Train driver testifies he was “confused” when he entered curve

Two women embrace during the funeral mass for the 79 victims in Santiago de Compostela on Monday.
Two women embrace during the funeral mass for the 79 victims in Santiago de Compostela on Monday.Cristóbal Manuel

Investigators are expected on Tuesday to begin analyzing the data from the black boxes taken from the Alvia train that derailed last week when its driver was reportedly speeding, killing 79 passengers and injuring more than 170 others.

The black boxes, which record the conversations between the driver and dispatchers as well as the technical data regarding the speed and the mechanics of the train at the time of the crash, were brought to Madrid to be opened in front of a judge at the capital city’s courthouse, investigative sources said.

Meanwhile, a funeral Mass was held on Monday at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela for the victims of last Wednesday’s accident — the worst Spanish rail disaster in 40 years. Prince Felipe and his wife, Princess Letizia, presided over the ceremony. They were accompanied by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Galician premier Alberto Núñez Feijóo, as well as members of both the central and local governments. Hundreds of people attended the act, with crowds watching the Mass on a giant screen set up on a platform in the Plaza de la Quintana that was to be used for last Thursday’s Day of the Apostle celebrations, which were canceled in the wake of the accident.

After nearly two hours of testimony before an investigative judge, the train driver being held responsible for the accident, Francisco José Garzón, said he “got confused” when he enter a sharp curve at more than double the speed limit, leading to the derailing of the inter-city train.

Garzón was released from custody shortly after midnight Sunday and charged with 79 counts of reckless homicide and other violations related to the injuries of at least 170 other passengers, all stemming from alleged professional negligence on his part.

The driver said he “got confused” when he enter a sharp curve at more than double the speed limit.

Santiago de Compostela Judge Luis Aláez confiscated Garzón’s passport, ordered him not to leave the country, and barred him from working as a train driver until at least February 2014.

It was the first time Garzón had given a statement to investigators concerning last Wednesday’s crash. He refused to talk to the police after he was formally arrested on Thursday in his hospital room, where he was recovering from minor injuries.

According to court sources, Garzón told Judge Aláez he took responsibility for the crash, which he attributed to “confusion” at the time.

He said that he believed he was coming around a curve he had already passed some two kilometers earlier, and did not complain about the train or the conditions of the rail track, one source said.

The route between Ourense and Santiago contains 31 tunnels and 38 viaducts in only 87 kilometers.

He acknowledged that he entered the sharp curve in the Santiago de Compostela district of Angrois at 190 km/h; the speed limit is 80 km/h. The train was headed to Ferrol from Madrid on July 24 when it derailed at 8.47pm, slamming into a concrete wall.

Meanwhile, two survivors reported that they saw on one of the carriage’s indicators that the train was going at up to 210 km/h. According to experts, that make and model of the Alvia train should not exceed 200 km/h.

Four-hour shift

According to a fellow rail worker, on that day Garzón had driven different routes for a total of four and half hours before the crash in Angrois, with long rest periods at stations between stretches. His colleagues, who asked that their names not be used, believe that it was easy for Garzón to become confused — as he told the judge — because he was traveling on a route between Ourense and Santiago that contains 31 tunnels and 38 viaducts in only 87 kilometers. Just before he entered the sharp curve at Angrois, where the disaster occurred, he had just gone through in succession a curved viaduct, a tunnel, a straight viaduct, and another tunnel.

After hearing Garzón’s testimony, prosecutor Antonio Roma did not ask that the 52-year-old driver be placed in preventive custody because he wasn’t considered a flight risk. Judge Aláez, nevertheless, ordered him to report every week to court officers.

Meanwhile, Allianz Insurance, which handles Renfe’s coverage, said that it will immediately pay 60,000 euros to the families of each of the 79 victims as part of an initial settlement, EFE reported. Compensation to the injured will range between 1,500 euros and 70,000 euros, the Spanish news agency said.

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