Eight years on, judge targets rail chiefs in Valencia subway crash probe

Tragic accident in 2006 left 43 people dead and 47 others injured Until now, only the driver – who was killed in the incident – had been held accountable

One of the train cars involved in the crash.
One of the train cars involved in the crash.Bernardo Pérez

A court investigation into the 2006 subway accident in Valencia that killed 43 people and injured 47 others has taken a new turn.

Until now, no one has been held accountable for the deadly crash, but an investigating judge has now decided to target three executives at Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat Valenciana (FGV), the regional railway authority, for their potential responsibility for the accident.

All three were in charge of automatic train protection systems along Line 1, where speed control mechanisms were installed in 1999. But the system did not stop the train, which derailed on a curve between two stations at 80km/h, twice the allowed speed.

The FGV executives will be the first to testify as official targets in a controversial case, which began shortly after the accident and was closed twice without finding anyone accountable. The judge in charge of the original investigation ruled that excess speed was to blame and that the only possible culprit was the train driver, who died in the accident.

The Valencia accident was the worst subway crash on record in Spain

But the regional court of Valencia forced the case to be reopened in January. For years, the victims association AVM3J had been insisting on the need to question technicians and executives at FGV regarding the safety of the train line and its safety system.

A witness recently stated that if one of the track signals had been reprogrammed, the train would have been automatically slowed down and it would have entered the bend at a lower speed.

This statement led one of the plaintiffs to ask for the FGV executives to be interrogated as well, and this demand was backed by the attorney’s office.

The individuals who will have to testify in court in June are former operations director Vicente Contreras, former technical director Francisco García, and head of projects, Francisco Orts.

The victims’ association applauded the decision, with president Beatriz Garrote noting that for eight years families have been saying that responsibility for the accident should not fall exclusively to the driver, “but also to the people who made the decisions.”

“We think it was clear that FGV executives had to provide some explanations,” added Garrote.

Political reactions to the judge’s decision soon followed. Valencian infrastructure commissioner Isabel Bonig asked for “calm and respect for the work of the judges.”

The Valencia accident is the worst subway crash on record in Spain, and one of the worst in the history of metropolitan rail transit in the world. It happened a little before 1pm near Jesús station, in downtown Valencia.

On July 24, 2013 a high-speed train derailed on a curve near Santiago de Compostela, killing 79 people. While the driver was initially blamed, a court is now investigating whether Adif, the state-owned railway manager, may bear some responsibility.

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS