News / Europe

Driver in Custody After 78 Killed in Spain Train Crash

An overhead view of the wreckage of a train crash is seen near Santiago de Compostela, northwestern Spain, in this still image from video, July 25, 2013.
An overhead view of the wreckage of a train crash is seen near Santiago de Compostela, northwestern Spain, in this still image from video, July 25, 2013.
Reuters
Police took the driver of a Spanish train into custody in hospital on Thursday after at least 78 people died when it derailed and caught fire in a dramatic accident which an official source said was caused by excessive speed.

The eight-car high velocity train came off the tracks just outside the pilgrimage center of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain on Wednesday night. It was one of Europe's worst rail disasters.

The source had knowledge of the official investigation into a crash which brought misery to Santiago on Thursday, the day when it should have celebrated one of Europe's biggest Christian festivals. Authorities canceled festivities as the city went into mourning.

The Galicia region supreme court said in a statement that the judge investigating the accident had ordered police to put the driver in custody and take a statement from him. He was under formal investigation, the court said.

Dramatic video footage from a security camera showed the train, with 247 people on board, hurtling into a concrete wall at the side of the track as carriages jack-knifed and the engine overturned.



Spain Train Accidenti
X
July 25, 2013 2:12 PM
Dramatic video released Thursday shows the moment a train in northern Spain jumped the tracks, killing 77 people and injuring more than 140.

One local official described the aftermath of the crash as like a scene from hell, with bodies strewn next to the tracks.

The impact was so huge one car flew several meters into the air and landed on the other side of the high concrete barrier.

Some 94 people were injured, of whom 35 were in a serious condition, including four children, the deputy head of the regional government said.

“We heard a massive noise and we went down the tracks. I helped get a few injured and bodies out of the train. I went into one of the cars but I'd rather not tell you what I saw there,” Ricardo Martinez, a 47-year-old baker from Santiago de Compostela, told Reuters.

The train had two drivers, the Galicia government said, but it was not immediately clear which one was in hospital and under investigation.

Newspaper accounts cited witnesses as saying one driver, Francisco Jose Garzon, who had helped rescue victims, shouted into a phone: “I've derailed! What do I do?”.

The 52-year-old had been a train driver for 30 years, a Renfe spokeswoman said. Many newspapers published excerpts from his Facebook account where he was reported to have boasted of driving trains at high speed. The page was taken offline on Thursday and the reports could not be verified.

  • A passenger train passes by a wrecked train engine at the site of the train crash in Santiago de Compostela, northwestern Spain, July 26, 2013. 
  • Luis Verde Remeseiro, director of the Hospital Clinico de Santiago de Compostela, talks to journalists in front of the hospital in Santiago de Compostela, northwestern Spain, July 26, 2013. 
  • Rail workers clear the tracks next to a wrecked train engine at the site of the train crash in Santiago de Compostela, northwestern Spain, July 26, 2013. 
  • A passenger train passes by a wrecked train engine at the site of the train crash in Santiago de Compostela, northwestern Spain, July 26, 2013. 
  • A crane removes a carriage from the tracks at the site of a train crash near Santiago de Compostela, northwestern Spain, July 25, 2013. 
  • A relative of one of the victims of the train crash reacts in Santiago de Compostela, northwestern Spain, July 25, 2013. 
  • Victims receive help after a train crashed near Santiago de Compostela, northwestern Spain, July 24, 2013. 
  • Rescue workers pull victims from a train crash near Santiago de Compostela, northwestern Spain, July 24, 2013. 
  • Emergency personnel respond to a train derailment in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, July 24, 2013.
  • Emergency personnel treat survivors after a train derailment in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, July 24, 2013.
  • Emergency personnel respond to a train derailment in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, July 24, 2013.
  • Emergency personnel at the scene of a train derailment in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, July 24, 2013.
  • Rescue workers pull victims from a train crash near Santiago de Compostela, Spain, July 24, 2013.
  • Rescue workers and officials are seen amongst the wreckage of the train crash near Santiago de Compostela, northwestern Spain, early July 25, 2013. 
  • Relatives of the victims involved in the train accident react at a victims' information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, July 25, 2013. 

Train hit bend at speed

El Pais newspaper said one of the drivers told the railway station by radio after being trapped in his cabin that the train entered the bend at 190 kilometers per hour (120 mph). An official source said the speed limit on that stretch of twin track, laid in 2011, was 80 kph.

“We're only human! We're only human!” the driver told the station, the newspaper said, citing sources close to the investigation. “I hope there are no dead, because this will fall on my conscience.”

Investigators were trying to urgently establish why the train was going so fast and why security devices to keep speed within permitted limits had not worked.

The train, operated by state-owned company Renfe, was built by Bombardier and Talgo and was around five years old. It had almost the maximum number of passengers.

Spain's rail safety record is better than the European average, ranking 18th out of 27 countries in terms of railway deaths per kilometers traveled, the European Railway Agency said. There were 218 train accidents in Spain between 2008-2011, well below the European Union average of 426 for the same period, the agency said.

Eve of festival

Firefighters called off a strike to help with the disaster, while hospital staff, many operating on reduced salaries because of spending cuts in recession-hit Spain, worked overtime to tend the injured.

The disaster happened at 8.41 p.m. (1841 GMT) on the eve of a festival dedicated to St. James, one of Jesus's 12 disciples, whose remains are said to rest in the city's centuries-old cathedral.

The apostle's shrine is the destination of the famous El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage across the Pyrenees, which has been followed by Christians since the Middle Ages.

Instead of a joyous festival, masses were held every hour in the cathedral. “The main mass was transformed from a mass of joy into a mass of mourning,” said Italian pilgrim Irene Valsangiacomo.

One U.S. citizen died in the crash and five were injured, the State Department said in Washington. Mexico said one of its nationals was among the dead.

At least one British citizen was injured, a British embassy spokesman said. Several other nationalities were believed to be among the passengers.

Neighbors ran to the site to help emergency workers tend to the wounded. Ana Taboada, a 29-year-old hospital worker, was one of the first on the scene.

“When the dust lifted I saw corpses. I didn't make it down to the track, because I was helping the passengers that were coming up the embankment,” she told Reuters. “I saw a man trying to break a window with a stone to help those inside get out.”

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who was born in Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia region, visited the site and the main hospital on Thursday. He declared three days of official national mourning for the victims of the disaster.

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia also went to Santiago and visited the injured in hospital.

Passenger Ricardo Montesco told Cadena Ser radio station the train approached the curve at high speed, twisted and the carriages piled up one on top of the other.

Passengers squashed

“A lot of people were squashed on the bottom. We tried to squeeze out of the bottom of the wagons to get out and we realized the train was burning. ... I was in the second carriage and there was fire. ... I saw corpses,” he said.

Both Renfe and state-owned Adif, which is in charge of the tracks, had opened an investigation into the cause of the derailment, Renfe said.

Clinics in Santiago de Compostela were overwhelmed with people flocking to give blood, while hotels organized free rooms for relatives. Madrid sent forensic scientists and hospital staff to the scene on special flights.

The train was traveling from Madrid to Ferrol on the Galician coast when it derailed, Renfe said in a statement. It left Madrid on time and was traveling on schedule, a spokeswoman said.

Allianz Seguros, owned by Germany's Allianz, owns the insurance contract for loss suffered by Renfe passengers, a company spokeswoman told Reuters. The contract does not cover Renfe's trains. The company had sent experts to the scene, she said.

The disaster stirred memories of a train bombing in Madrid in 2004, carried out by Islamist militants, that killed 191 people, although officials do not suspect an attack this time.

Spain is struggling to emerge from a long-running recession marked by government-driven austerity to bring its deeply indebted finances into order.

But Adif, the state railways infrastructure company, told Reuters no budget cuts had been implemented on maintenance of the line, which connects La Coruna, Santiago de Compostela and Ourense and was inaugurated in 2011.

It said more than 100 million euros a year were being spent on track maintenance in Spain.

Wednesday's derailment was one of the worst rail accidents in Europe over the past 25 years.

Note: An earlier version of this story reported that the death toll in the train crash was 80.  The toll was provisionally revised down to 78.

You May Like

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Video One Year After Massacre, Iraq’s Yazidis a Broken People

Minority community still recovering from devastating assault by IS militants which spurred massive outrage More

‘Malvertisements’ Undermine Internet Trust

Hackers increasingly prey on users' trust of major websites to delivery malicious software More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs