National AP News | WCTV Eyewitness News: Tallahassee, Thomasville, Valdosta

Investigators: Spain Train Driver On Phone, Going Twice The Speed Limit [GALLERY]

By: CBS News; Associated Press Email
By: CBS News; Associated Press Email

CBS News Web Copy

MADRID The driver was on the phone with a colleague and reading a document as his train barreled ahead at 95 mph - almost twice the speed limit. Suddenly, a notorious curve was upon him.

He hit the brakes too late.

The train, carrying 218 passengers in eight carriages, hurtled off the tracks and slammed into a concrete wall, killing 79 people.

On Tuesday, investigators looking into the crash announced their preliminary findings from analysis of the train's data-recording "black boxes," suggesting that human error appears to be the cause of Spain's worst railway disaster in decades.

The derailment occurred near Santiago de Compostela, a city in northwestern Spain, late last Wednesday. Some 66 people injured in the crash are still hospitalized, 15 of them in critical condition.

The accident cast a pall over the city, which is the last stop for the faithful who make it to the end of the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route that has drawn Christians since the Middle Ages. The crash occurred on the eve of annual festivities at the shrine, which subsequently were canceled.

The disaster also stunned the rest of Spain, with Spanish royals and political leaders joining hundreds of people in Santiago de Compostela's storied 12th-century cathedral Monday evening to mourn the dead.

According to the investigation so far, train driver Francisco Jose Garzon Amo received a call from an official of national rail company Renfe on his work phone in the cabin, not his personal cellphone, to tell him what approach to take toward his final destination.

The Renfe employee on the telephone "appears to be a controller," said a statement from a court in Santiago de Compostela, where the investigation is based. "From the contents of the conversation and from the background noise it seems that the driver (was) consulting a plan or similar paper document."

The train had been going as fast as 119 mph shortly before the derailment, and the driver activated the brakes "seconds before the crash," according to the statement. The speed limit on the section of track where the crash happened was 50 mph.

Authorities have said that a high-tech automatic braking program called the European Rail Traffic Management System was installed on most of the high-speed track leading from Madrid north to Santiago de Compostela - the route Garzon's train took. But the cutting-edge coverage stops just 3 miles south of where the crash occurred, placing a greater burden on the driver to take charge.

The Spanish rail company has said the brakes should have been applied 2.5 miles before the train hit the curve.

A local resident who rushed to the scene of the accident said in an interview published Sunday that minutes after the crash the driver said he had been going fast and couldn't brake.

Evaristo Iglesias said that he and another person accompanied the blood-soaked Garzon to a stretch of flat ground where other injured people were being laid out, waiting for emergency services to arrive.

"He told us that he wanted to die," Iglesias told Antena 3 television.

"He said he had needed to brake but couldn't," Iglesias said. He added that Garzon said "he had been going fast."

A court spokeswoman told The Associated Press that the boxes "did not indicate any technical failures" contributed to the accident. She spoke on condition of anonymity because court regulations bar her from identifying herself by name.

Garzon was provisionally charged Sunday with multiple counts of negligent homicide. He was not sent to jail or required to post bail because none of the parties involved felt there was a risk of him fleeing or attempting to destroy evidence, according to a court statement.

Investigators from the court, forensic police experts, the Ministry of Transport and Renfe examined the contents of the two black boxes recovered from the lead and rear cars of the train.

But the investigation is ongoing. The next steps include measuring the wheels on the cars and examining the locomotive, the statement said, without providing an explanation for those checks.

Sniffer dogs will also be used to search for human remains in the wreckage, it said.

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Associated Press Release

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain (AP) -- The driver of a speeding Spanish train that derailed, killing 78 people, said minutes after the crash that he had been going fast and couldn't brake, a local resident who rushed to the scene of the accident said in an interview broadcast Sunday.

Evaristo Iglesias said that he and another person accompanied the blood-soaked Francisco Jose Garzon Amo to a stretch of flat ground where other injured people were being laid out, waiting for emergency services to arrive.

"He told us that he wanted to die," Iglesias told Antena 3 television.

"He said he had needed to brake but couldn't," Iglesias said. He added that Garzon said "he had been going fast."

The station showed a photograph of Iglesias in a pink shirt and cap helping carry the driver after the Wednesday accident in the northwestern Spanish town of Santiago De Compostela. It also aired television footage of Iglesias working beside the wrecked train to help other survivors.

Garzon has been released from the hospital and is in police custody on suspicion of negligent homicide.

The train carrying 218 passenger in eight cars hurtled far over the 50-mph speed limit into a high-risk curve, tumbling off the tracks and slamming into a concrete wall, with some of the cars catching fire.

The Spanish rail agency has said the brakes should have been applied 2.5 miles before the train hit the curve.

In the interview, Iglesias recalled Garzon's words, "`I don't want to see this, I want to die,' that's what he said repeatedly," said Iglesias. "'I had to brake down to 80 and couldn't,'" Iglesias said he said.

Spain's state-run train company has described Garzon as an experience driver who knew the route well. He is expected to give testimony to an investigating judge later Sunday, though he exercised his right to remain silent when police tried to interview him.

The judge will also have access to information contained in the train's "black box," which is similar to those found on aircraft.

Iglesias was among survivors and witnesses who began to give evidence to police on Sunday. Investigators must determine if Garzon failed to apply the brakes or whether it was a technical failure.

Meanwhile, authorities said forensic experts have identified the last three bodies among the 78 dead. They did not reveal the names, but said Sunday that all of the families had been notified.

Victims have been reported from France, Algeria, the Dominican Republic, Italy, Mexico and the United States.

Mourning continued throughout Spain, with Sunday church services being held in remembrance of the dead.

A large funeral mass is planned for Monday afternoon in Santiago de Compostela, and the prime minister and royal family are expected to attend.

The crash has cast a pall over the town, a Catholic pilgrimage site. Santiago officials had been preparing for the religious feast of St. James of Compostela, Spain's patron saint, but canceled it after the crash and turned a local sporting arena into a morgue.


CBS News Web Copy

Updated at 7:06 p.m. ET

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain A Spanish train that hurtled off the rails and smashed into a security wall as it rounded a bend was going so fast that carriages tumbled off the tracks like dominoes, killing 80 people, including an American, and maiming dozens more.

Spain's government said two probes have been launched into the train's derailment Wednesday night on its approach to this Christian festival city in northwest Spain, where planned celebrations in honor of one of Jesus' disciples gave way to a living nightmare.

The regional government in Galicia confirmed that police planned to question the 52-year-old train driver, in Santiago de Compostela's main hospital with unspecified injuries, as both a witness and as a possible suspect, but cautioned that possible faults in safety equipment were also being investigated.

Spain's lead investigator in the crash, Judge Vazquez TaDin, ordered detectives to question the train driver.

Renfe identified him as Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, as a 30-year employee of the state rail company who became an assistant driver in 2000 and a fully qualified driver in 2003. The company said Amo took control of the train from a second driver about 65 miles south of Santiago de Compostela.

CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reported Amo had bragged last year on the internet about running his train right at the speed limit, saying any faster and he'd be fined.

Renfe's president, Julio Gomez-Pomar Rodriguez, told Spain's Cadena Cope radio network that the driver had worked on that route for more than one year.

An Associated Press analysis of images from video footage obtained Thursday suggested the train may have been traveling at twice the speed limit, or more, along that curved stretch of track. Spanish officials said the speed limit on that section of track is 50 miles per hour.

An Associated Press estimate of the train's speed at the moment of impact using the time stamp of the video and the estimated distance between two pylons gives a range of 89-119 mph. Another estimate calculated on the basis of the typical distance between railroad ties gives a range of 96-112 mph.

The video footage, which the Spanish railway authority Adif said probably came from one of its cameras, shows the train carriages starting to buckle soon into the turn.

The cause of the crash seems to have been a deadly combination of high speed and low budgets, Phillips reports. In order to save money when updating the line between Madrid and the northwest coastal town of El Ferrol, the Spanish rail authority opted to use the existing right of way through Santiago de Compostela.

Murray Hughes, consultant editor of Railway Gazette International, said it appeared that a diesel-powered unit behind the lead locomotive was the first to derail. The front engine itself quickly followed, violently tipping on to its right side as it crashed into a concrete security wall and bulldozed along the ground.

In the background, all the rear carriages could be seen starting to decouple and come off the tracks. The picture went blank as the engine appeared to crash directly into the camera.

After impact, witnesses said a fire engulfed passengers trapped in at least one carriage, most likely driven by ruptured tanks of diesel fuel carried in the forward engines.

"I saw the train coming out of the bend at great speed and then there was a big noise," one eyewitness who lives beside the train line, Consuelo Domingues, told The Associated Press. "... Then everybody tried to get out of the train."

The Interior Ministry raised the death toll to 80 in what was Spain's deadliest train wreck in four decades. The Galician government said 94 others remained hospitalized in six regional hospitals, 31 of them -- including four children -- in critical condition.

A State Department official confirmed to CBS News Thursday afternoon that one U.S. citizen died and five other Americans were injured in Wednesday's crash. The official provided no other details except to say that those numbers might change with new information.

"Today the American people grieve with our Spanish friends, who are in our thoughts and prayers," President Obama said in a statement.

One American survivor has sent a message from a hospital saying he's OK, CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reported on "CBS This Morning" Thursday.

Another, however, was not so lucky. Roberto Fariza of Houston, Texas, said his wife was in critical condition. They were both passengers on the train.

"She got hurt very bad her scalp was all like that -- flipped over -- and she was bleeding out of her mouth and out of her ears, and she was conscious though...she knew what happened," Fariza said of his wife on "CBS Evening News".

In the morning, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a native of Santiago de Compostela, toured the crash scene alongside rescue workers and went to a nearby hospital to visit those wounded and their families. In the evening Spain's head of state, King Carlos, and Queen Sofia went to the same hospital, dressed in funereal black.

"For a native of Santiago, like me, this is the saddest day," said Rajoy, who declared Spain would observe a three-day period of mourning. He said judicial authorities and the Public Works Ministry had launched parallel investigations into what caused the crash.

Santiago officials had been preparing for the city's internationally celebrated Catholic festival Thursday but canceled it and took control of the city's main indoor sports arena to use as a makeshift morgue. There, relatives of the dead could be seen sobbing and embracing each other.

The Interior Ministry, responsible for law and order, ruled out terrorism as a cause.

While sections of the Spanish press pointed an accusatory finger at the train driver, Spanish authorities and railway safety experts cautioned that a fault in systems designed to keep trains traveling at safe speeds could be to blame.

It was Spain's deadliest train accident since 1972, when a train collided with a bus in southwest Spain, killing 86 people and injuring 112.

"July 24 will no longer be the eve of a day of celebration but rather one commemorating one of the saddest days in the history of Galicia," said Alberto Nunez Feijoo, regional president of Galicia. Santiago de Compostela is its capital.

The accident created a scene that was "Dante-esque," Feijoo said. He said Galicia would observe seven days of mourning.

Rescue workers spent the night searching through smashed carriages alongside the tracks.

As dawn broke, cranes brought to the scene were used to lift the carriages away from the tracks. Rescue workers collected passengers' scattered luggage and loaded it into a truck next to the tracks.

Rescuers described a scene of horror immediately after the crash. Smoke billowed from at least one carriage that had caught fire, while another had been torn into two parts.

Residents of the residential neighborhood closest to the rail line struggled to help victims out of the toppled cars. Some passengers were pulled out of broken windows. Television images showed one man atop a carriage lying on its side, using a pickaxe to try to smash through a window. Other rescuers used rocks to try to free survivors from the fiery wreckage.

Nearby, rescue workers lined up bodies covered in blankets alongside the tracks.

Renfe said the crash happened at 8:41 p.m. (2:41 p.m. ET) about 2.5 miles south of Santiago de Compostela.

Renfe said it and Adif, which manages tracks, signals and other railway infrastructure, were cooperating with a judge appointed to investigate the accident.

It was the world's third major rail accident this month.

On July 12, six people were killed and nearly 200 were injured when four cars of a passenger train derailed south of Paris.

On July 6, 72 cars carrying crude oil derailed in Lac-Megantic, Ontario, setting off explosions and fires that killed 47 people.

Catholic pilgrims converge on Santiago de Compostela annually to celebrate a festival honoring St. James, a disciple of Jesus whose remains are said to rest in a shrine. The city is the main gathering point for those who reach the end of the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route that has drawn Christians since the Middle Ages.

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


CBS News Web Copy

Updated 9:38 p.m. ET

MADRID A passenger train derailed Wednesday night on a curvy stretch of track in northwestern Spain, killing at least 40 people caught inside toppled cars and injuring more than 140 in the country's worst rail accident in decades, officials said.

Bodies were covered in blankets next to the tracks and rescue workers tried to get trapped people out of the train's cars, with smoke billowing from some of the wreckage. Some passengers were pulled out of broken windows, and one man stood atop a carriage lying on its side, using a pickaxe to try to smash through a window. Images showed one car pointing up into the air with one of its ends twisted and disfigured, and another severed in two.

Officials gave differing death tolls in the immediate aftermath of the crash just outside Santiago de Compostela, on the eve of the city's annual religious festival that attracts tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world.

Alberto Nunez Feijoo, president of the region of Galicia where Santiago de Compostela is the capital, said at least 40 people died. But the president of Galicia's main court, Miguel Angel Cadenas, was quoted from the scene by the Cadena Ser radio station saying 56 died. Rescue workers were still searching through the smoldering wreckage of the train's cars Thursday morning in the pre-dawn darkness.

State-owned train operator Renfe said in a statement that 218 passengers and an unspecified number of staff were on board the eight-carriage train during the 8.41 p.m. (1841 GMT) crash on a section of tracks that came online two years ago.

Renfe said that it — and track operator Adif — were collaborating with a judge who has been appointed to investigate the accident.

Spanish media said scores of people were injured, with Cadena Ser quoting unnamed government officials saying 100 were hurt but providing no details on the severity of their injuries.

Officials in Santiago de Compostela canceled ceremonies planned for Thursday, when Catholic pilgrims converge on the city to celebrate a festival honoring St. James, the disciple of Jesus whose remains are said to rest in a shrine. The city is the main gathering point for the faithful who make it to the end of the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route that has drawn Christians since the Middle Ages.

The crash happened about an hour before sunset after the train emerged from a tunnel and derailed on the curve — sending cars flying off the tracks. At least one caught fire in a scene that Feijoo said was "Dante-esque."

"The train travelled very fast and derailed and turned over on the bend in the track," passenger Sergio Prego told Cadena Ser. "It's a disaster. I've been very lucky because I'm one of the few be able to walk out."

Another passenger, Ricardo Montero, told the radio station that "when the train reached that bend it began to flip over, many times, with some carriages ending up on top of others, leaving many people trapped below. We had to get under the carriages to get out."

Xabier Martinez, a photographer who arrived at the scene as rescue workers were removing dozens of bodies, said two injured train passengers told him they felt a strong vibration just before the train's wagons jumped the tracks.

Officials said they believed the crash was an accident but declined to offer more details, saying an investigation was under way into the cause. There was no speculation by officials that it might be a possible act of terror, like the commuter train bombing attacks in Madrid in 2004 that killed 191 people.

The train, which belongs to the state-owned Renfe company, started its journey in Madrid and was scheduled to end its journey at El Ferrol, about 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of Santiago de Compostela. Although it was not one of Spain's highest speed bullet trains called AVEs, it was a relatively luxurious version that uses the same kind of track as Spain's fastest expresses.

It was Spain's deadliest train accident since 1972, when an accident on a track heading to the southwestern city of Seville killed 77 people. A train traveling from Madrid to the Galicia region in 1944 crashed and killed 78 people.

King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a native of Galicia, both offered their condolences. Rajoy, who was born in Santiago de Compostela, announced he would visit the site Thursday.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Associated Press Release

MADRID (AP) -- Spain regional official Alberto Nunez Feijoo tells radio at least 35 dead in train accident.


Associated Press Release

MADRID (AP) -- A train traveling in northwestern Spain has derailed, toppling passenger cars on their sides and leaving at least one torn open as smoke rose into the air.

It was not immediately clear how many people were injured or if any had died.

Spanish state television showed images of the accident on high-speed tracks near the train station in Santiago de Compostola, 95 kilometers (60 miles) south of El Ferrol.

The train was headed to El Ferrol from Madrid on Wednesday.

Officials at the Interior Ministry or with Spain's state-owned Renfe passenger train company and the Adif rail infrastructure authority did not immediately answer telephone calls or return messages seeking comment.


Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
powered by Disqus
WCTV 1801 Halstead Blvd. Tallahassee, FL 32309
Gray Television, Inc. - Copyright © 2002-2014 - Designed by Gray Digital Media - Powered by Clickability 216852481