‘We are grieving with the Spaniards’: Obama

US President Barack Obama expressed dismay on Thursday at the train crash near the city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain that left at least 80 people dead, including one American.

'We are grieving with the Spaniards': Obama
US President Barack Obama in Jacksonville, Florida on Thursday. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP

"Michelle and I were shocked and saddened by the news of yesterday's tragic train derailment in Santiago de Compostela, Spain," he said.

"On behalf of the American people, we offer our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families and loved ones of the more than 80 people who lost their lives."

The State Department said one American was among the dead, and five others had been injured, but cautioned that the numbers may change.

"We extend our wishes for a full recovery to those who were hurt," Obama said.

"We also offer our heartfelt gratitude to the government of Spain and to the rescue personnel who are working to locate the missing and treat the injured.

"Today the American people grieve with our Spanish friends, who are in our thoughts and prayers. We stand ready to provide any assistance we can in the difficult days ahead."

Spanish authorities have confirmed that 80 people were killed and 178 injured in Wednesday's dramatic accident, in which a high speed passenger express train jumped its rails and was torn in half.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said US consular staff were working with Spanish counterparts "to account for US citizens who need assistance."

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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.