State budget allocates €110m to boost safety of Spain’s trains

Santiago disaster leads to massive increase in funding

The train crash that left 79 passengers dead near Santiago de Compostela on July 24 has had a direct effect on the national budget. The Public Works Ministry’s allocation for 2014 shows a major increase in money for safety measures for Adif and Renfe, the state-owned railway track and train operators, respectively. Whereas this item was 15 million euros for this year, next year’s budget shows an estimated 110 million euros.

Although the driver of the train involved in the Galicia crash admitted that he took a turn at twice the speed limit, after being distracted by a call on his cellphone, the judge in charge of the case is investigating whether better safety measures could have prevented the tragedy. Shortly after the crash, Adif officials were called in to testify about the rail network’s safety, in particular the lack of automated braking systems on that particular stretch of track.

The draft state budget report, which the government sent to Congress on Monday for deliberation, expressly says that “with the aim of encouraging action in connection with the improvement of safety conditions, as the minister [Ana Pastor] explained in her congressional appearance on August 8, 2013, an item has been added both for Adif and Renfe with the corresponding allocation.” This new 50-million-euro item is called “ERTMS in priority lines,” and makes reference to the European Rail Traffic Management System, a train-control system that is being rolled out across Europe to ensure interoperability across the continent. “I believe that it should have an item of its own in the budget,” said Pastor on Tuesday.

Adif officials were called in to testify about the lack of automated braking systems

On the Ourense-Santiago line, where the accident took place, ERTMS was only installed up until a spot four kilometers short of the curve where the train derailed. After that, there is no mechanism to automatically slow down trains that are traveling too fast — instead, the decision is left up to the driver, who has an in-cabin speed chart and visual warnings along the tracks.

The train that crashed was an Alvia, a hybrid design that can travel on the regular network as well as the special high-speed tracks made for the AVE. At the time of the crash, the Alvia was traveling at 180km/h; the driver failed to notice that a bend was coming up that required him to slow the train down to 80km/h.

Pastor insisted on Tuesday that “the entire Spanish railway system is under review, because everything has to be reviewed and should be reviewable.”

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