Santiago train crash judge wants to question railway safety chief

Aláez says measures “insufficient” to prevent human error as he criticizes position of speed sign

The judge investigating the train accident that killed 79 people near Santiago de Compostela on July 24 believes that Adif, the state-owned railway manager, may have some responsibility in a tragic event that has so far been blamed on the driver.

Although he stated that the direct cause of the accident was the excessive speed of the train as it entered a sharp curve, Judge Luis Aláez now wants to question the Adif employee in charge of safety for the stretch of track between Ourense and Santiago. The date of the court statement has not been set yet as Adif has yet to identify the individual who held this responsibility.

The driver of the train, Francisco José Garzón, admitted to investigators that he was talking on the phone with the conductor before the crash and failed to notice the signs warning him to slow down. But families of the deceased are left wondering why the train had no built-in security system to automatically slow down the engine in the event of human error.

The investigating magistrate noted that even though the causes of the derailment are “obviously connected to inappropriate driving due to excess speed, a more careful examination of the known circumstances in which the accident took place suggests a link with the lack of preventive security measures on the tracks, and ultimately with reckless conduct on the part of the people in charge of guaranteeing safe circulation on the stretch of line where the catastrophe took place.”

Aláez noted that the sign warning drivers to reduce speed is only 300 meters from the Angrois curve

Aláez added that the security systems in place were “insufficient” to make up for the consequences of a possible mistake by the driver.

The line between Ourense and Santiago is equipped with the automatic braking ERTMS system, the most advanced Spain’s railway network has, but it was disconnected at the time because of the problems it causes on that particular stretch of track. Instead, the train was using the ASFA system, a more basic version that only triggers in very particular circumstances and leaves the driver to judge speeds based on track-side signals. The ERTMS on-board computer warns drivers of upcoming speed changes and can disable the train on its own.

The curve at Angrois where the derailing took place is preceded by a long stretch of straight track and presents “characteristics that are extremely dangerous for the circulation of trains,” the judge said. The train entered the curve, where the speed limit is 80km/h at almost 200km/h. Aláez noted that the sign warning drivers to reduce speed is only 300 meters from the Angrois curve “which renders impossible or extremely remote the manual correction of erroneous speed at that stage.”

One month after the crash, 17 people are still listed in critical condition in the Hospital Clínico in Santiago.


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