Safety experts recommend urgent overhaul of Spain’s railroad system

Report comes nine months after Santiago train crash that killed 79 people

Santiago de Compostela - 28 Apr 2014 - 09:12 UTC
Experts inspect the Angrois curve where an Alvia train derailed and crashed in July 2013.
Experts inspect the Angrois curve where an Alvia train derailed and crashed in July 2013.óscar corral

Nine days after a tragic train crash in Santiago that left 79 people dead on July 24 of last year, the Public Works Ministry created a “scientific-technical” committee to provide advice on how to upgrade Spain’s railway system.

Nine months later, after consulting with around 50 experts and 30 companies, unions and agencies — including Adif and Renfe, the railway infrastructure manager and operator, respectively — the draft report is nearly ready.

The 30 proposed measures include an “urgent” overhaul of track signs, driving regulations and safety systems on all lines.

Although the committee does not specifically mention the accident that took place last summer in Angrois, near Santiago de Compostela, many of its proposals have to do with key elements in the series of events that led to the tragic derailment.

The Alvia train driver was distracted by a phone call from the conductor

The improvements will seek to prevent cases like that of the Alvia train driver who got distracted by a phone call from the conductor as he hurtled down a high-speed stretch of track and failed to brake in time to take a sharp curve safely, while the safety systems were unable to make up for the human error and stop the train.

The experts recommend an urgent review of regulations that allowed the ERTMS in-cab automated control mechanism to be deactivated on the Alvia, considering that conventional systems were unable to slow down a speeding train.

Trackside speed-limit signs are also considered a priority by the report authors, as is the drafting of “basic criteria” for situations that require a sudden speed transition, particularly for trains like the hybrid Alvia, which can run on both regular and fast tracks (as opposed to the AVE, which only runs on high-speed tracks).

The report also notes the importance of regulating and monitoring the use of communication devices by drivers, and suggests an integrated, hands-free in-cabin system.