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Editorials
These are the responsibility of the editor and convey the newspaper's view on current affairs-both domestic and international

Explanation, not concealment

The failure to offer a convincing account of the Santiago accident merely fuels speculation

Several days have gone by since the tragic train crash in Santiago de Compostela, and the authorities have yet to offer the necessary explanations. A convincing account of the facts is far preferable to allowing speculation and conjecture to proliferate, in part nourished by the casual comments and vague remarks proceeding from the public companies Renfe and Adif, which are in charge of operating the Spanish railway network.

Public Works Minister Ana Pastor has at last deigned to appear in Congress to offer explanations: it was about time. Explanations are also owed by the regional government of Galicia, which still denies a lack of coordination in the rescue work during the first hours after the tragedy, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.

The engine driver of the wrecked train has admitted to “distraction” in believing that he was on another section of the line, and braking too late. The opening of the train’s black boxes should throw light on what happened in the driver’s cab. But whatever the criminal and civil responsibilities of the driver — and thus of Renfe as his employer — it is surprising that the approach to a very tight curve is not equipped with an automatic braking system. It seems equally odd that this situation can be compatible with a route that requires a sharp reduction in speed (from 200 to 80 km/h) in a very short space and time. These are some of the doubts that naturally arise in connection with this and other points in the rail network.

Quite apart from the tragedy itself and the suffering caused by the loss of so many lives, the high-speed rail system has been functioning very well in Spain. But we may well ask whether politically motivated haste is an undesirable influence. Excessive haste may have been a factor in starting building a rail line such as the Ourense-A Coruña route, which has been showcased as a high-speed line, even though part of it has not been built, and apparently not equipped, as such. There has to be clearer demarcation of the performance qualities demanded of a line that, while not strictly conforming to the design standards of a high-speed train line, has been operating as if it were one.

The huge investment input involved has included the installation of the most advanced electronic ERTMS safety system along 1,786 kilometers of track throughout Spain — a record. Nevertheless, it is only available on just over half of the high-speed rail network. This does not mean that the rest is unsafe, but only that it must be operated with more precautions. An explanation to clear up the doubts that such a disaster arouses in people’s minds is a necessary gesture of credibility — just as necessary as a realistic vision of what a high-speed rail system is, and what it is not.

What is in doubt is not the technical competence of the Spanish companies in the high-speed rail sector, but our country’s capacity to make the investment that will fully complete what these companies have made technologically possible. And this question must not be concealed, but explained. What is absurd, and irresponsible, is to hide behind the suggestion that explanations belong to the realm of higher engineering, unsuitable for the digestion of the general public.

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