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

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid