Spanish police detain ‘speeding’ train driver

Spanish police said on Friday they have formally detained the driver of the train which crashed near Santiago de Compostela, while local media are reporting that the driver was unable to break in time.

Spanish police detain 'speeding' train driver
Relatives of the victims of a train accident on Wednesday in Santiago de Compostela in which at least 78 people died. Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP

"He has been detained since 8 pm (Thursday). He is accused of crimes related to the accident," said Jaime Iglesias, the chief of police in the northwestern region of Galicia where the accident happened.

Asked at a news conference in Santiago de Compostela why the driver was being detained, Iglesias said: "For recklessness".

The driver who, according to state train company Renfe has more than a decade of train driving experience, has not yet been charged with a crime and police are still waiting to question him.

This driver was unable to break in time and thus prevent the accident, newspaper El Pais reported on Friday.

The investigation into the cause of the nation's deadliest rail disaster since 1944 has focused on a possible problem with the brakes and speeding by the driver, the newspaper said.

The accident happened Wednesday evening as the train entered a sharp curve known as "A Gandeira" about four kilometres (2.5 miles) from the station in the northern city of Santiago de Compostela.

The train was reportedly travelling at twice the limit on a section of high-speed track that has a speed limit of 80kph (50 mph).

"The railway warning systems detected that the driver of the Alvia train that departed Madrid, was travelling at 190kph when it should not exceed 80," El Pais wrote.

"The driver acknowledged that the alarm went off in the control panel and he tried to brake but was not able to avert the tragedy," the newspaper added.

El Pais said Thursday that the driver stated immediately after the crash that he had been travelling at 190 km/h at the time of the derailment.

"I hope no one died because it will weigh on my conscience," he reportedly told supervisors over the radio while trapped inside the cab after the eight-carriage train derailed.

He is in hospital under police surveillance as he undergoes treatment for light injuries sustained in the accident.

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‘I am not to blame’: Train crash conductor

A conductor said on Friday he was not to blame for a Spanish train derailment that killed 79 people on July 24th despite telephoning the driver just before the disaster.

'I am not to blame': Train crash conductor
The conductor of the train involved in the accident which saw at least 79 die is appearing only as a witness and is not accused of wrongdoing. Photo: Rafa Rivas/AFP

The on-board conductor said his call to the driver had already ended when the speeding train flew off the rails and hurtled into a concrete wall near the northwestern city of Santiago de Compostela.

"I have not felt I was to blame at any time," the conductor told reporters as he arrived at the court in Santiago de Compostela, which is running a criminal investigation into the accident.

The conductor is appearing only as a witness and is not accused of wrongdoing.

Nevertheless, he said he felt shaken after Spain's deadliest railway crash in decades.

"I am pretty well physically and injured psychologically," he told media.

The court, presided over by Judge Luis Alaez, has not released the conductor's name but he has been widely identified in the media as Antonio Martin Marugan.

On Thursday, the judge said the conductor, who had called the driver to discuss which track to use on a later stop, was not being accused of criminal negligence.

"The fact of consulting the driver to know if the train could run on a particular track was something normal," the judge said. "It was not the cause of the derailment."

"Even if it was unfortunate that the call took place at that place and time, it is not sufficient to make an accusation of criminal negligence."

The train driver, 52-year-old Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, has been released on bail charged with 79 counts of reckless homicide while the court investigates.

With 79 people killed and more than 100 injured, it was Spain's worst rail disaster since 1944.

Garzon had said in his first testimony to the Galicia regional court on Sunday that he "didn't understand" how he failed to brake in time, a recording of his court hearing revealed.

"I can't explain. I still don't understand," the driver told the judge when asked why he hadn't slowed down in time to take a sharp bend four kilometres (three miles) away from Santiago de Compostela.

Asked again about what caused him to crash, he added: "I tell you sincerely that I don't know. Otherwise I would not have been so crazy as not to brake" earlier.

Railway officials say the track where the train crashed was not equipped with the automatic braking systems in place on some high-speed lines and that it was therefore left up to the driver to brake.

The driver told the judge he had braked, but by the time he did so the crash was "inevitable".

"Before the train turned over, I had activated everything but I saw that no, no, it wasn't working."

The black box data recorders revealed the train was going at 192 kilometres (119 miles) per hour before braking shortly before the bend. When it derailed it was travelling at 153 kph — nearly twice the 80 kph speed limit on that part of the line.