Train driver snubs police in crash probe

The driver of a speeding train that crashed in northwestern Spain on Wednesday night, killing 78 people, has refused to respond to police questioning on Friday, a police spokesman said.

Train driver snubs police in crash probe
A man lights a candle on the fence of Santiago de Compostela's cathedral to remember victims of Wednesday's high speed train crash. Photo: Rafa Rivas/AFP

"The driver has refused to answer the police authorities," the spokesman told news agency AFP, adding that the case will now "proceed to a judicial process as soon as possible".

After being read his rights on Friday evening in the Santiago de Compostela hospital room where he is being held, the driver refused to answer police questioning.

Sources close to the families advised the driver to refrain from giving testimony until he was called before the presiding judge in the case, El Pais newspaper reported on Saturday.

Top police officials detained the driver on 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.

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).

El Pais said on 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.

The directors of Spain's two main railway companies both spoke up about the accident on Friday, with both referencing the actions of the driver.

The president of state railway infrastructure firm Adif Gonzalo Ferreold news agency Efe that the driver should have reduced his speed some four kilometres before the scene of the accident as railways signals specified.

He said this should have happened as the train was entering Santiago de Compostela.

The president of state railway firm Renfe Julio Gómez-Pomar said the driver knew the area well, having travelled through the zone on around 60 occasions.

"A curve with a layout of 80kph (50mph) is something that the driver knows," said Gómez-Pomar.

But a train driver familiar with the stretch of track where Wednesday's accident occurred said there was no alert system forcing drivers to slow down.

"From 200kph to 80kph is a very fast decrease in speed to not be signalled in a way that obliges you to lower your speed," train driver Manual Mata told Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

Mata said that at the accident zone, the train comes leaves a stretch of high-speed track protected by ERMTS braking and speed control system and enters a 'conventional' stretch of track with track signals.

If the signal is green, the driver explained, "You don't need to do anything".

Automatic braking would only apply if the train was travelling at over 200kph, the driver added.

Mata said the stretch of track where the accident occurred was known to be difficult among train drivers but that all security systems meet technical specifications.

"We know the point is where we have to break," the driver said of the accident zone.

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Which Spanish regions are likely to allow people to remove their masks outdoors?

As Spain's vaccine campaign gains speed and the infection rate drops, there are indications that facemasks will very soon no longer be compulsory outdoors in several Spanish regions.

Which Spanish regions are likely to allow people to remove masks outdoors?

Spain’s Health Emergencies chief Fernando Simón said at a recent press conference that he is hopeful about relaxing the rule about the use of masks in outdoor spaces, as long as the safety distance of 1.5 meters can be guaranteed.

“It is very possible that in a few days the use of a mask outdoors can be reduced. Of course, always guaranteeing that the risks are decreasing,” he said.

However, Simón also added that “reducing one measure does not mean that the same should be done with all measures”. In addition, he asked citizens to go “step by step and be careful until we see the effects that mean we can relax the restrictions”.

Although this will be decided in the next few days Simón does not want anyone to “fall into false assurances”.

Face masks have been compulsory in public in Spain since May 21st 2020, and since March of this year, you are required to wear them in almost all indoor and outdoor settings, even if you’re sticking to the safety distance, unless the activity is incompatible with mask-wearing such as eating, drinking, sunbathing, running etc. 

Regions that could possibly relax restrictions on the use of masks outdoors

If the mask restrictions are relaxed by the government and the health authorities, the regions that could already qualify because of their low-to-medium risk epidemiological situations include Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla y León, Castilla La-Mancha, Extremadura, the Valencian region, Murcia, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands.

Which regions are in favour of the move?

Both Catalonia and Galicia have said that they would be in favour of dropping the use of masks outdoors.

The Catalan government was one of the first regions to open the discussion on relaxing the use of masks outdoors.

According to Catalan Regional Health Secretary MarcRamentol, the Catalan government considers that with at least 30 percent of the population fully vaccinated and more than half of the population having received at least one dose, the matter is worth discussing. 

Not having to wear a mask outdoors will help the summer “feel more like 2019 than that of 2020”, said Ramentol.

President of the Xunta of Galicia Alberto Núñez Feijoo, said last week that he expects the use of masks outdoors will be abolished in July, however on Tuesday, May 18th at the Hotusa Group Tourism Innovation Forum in Madrid, he insisted that it is only “a matter of weeks”.

Although Valencia currently still has some strict rules in place, Regional President Ximo Puig has stated that he is in favour of the mask not being compulsory in open spaces. “We know that in open spaces there is a much lower possibility of contagion and I have been supporting this for a long time – it is not necessary to use the mask in some open spaces, natural spaces or on the beaches,” he said.

Which regions want to keep making masks compulsory in outdoor spaces

Regional authorities in Madrid and the Basque Country, the regions which the highest infection rates in Spain have criticised the national government’s position regarding masks, arguing that’s it’s too soon for masks to no longer be obligatory outdoors.

Andalusia is also against the proposal. Jesús Aguirre, Minister of Health and Families in Adalusia, has said that it would be a mistake since the mask is “the most powerful weapon” with which we have to avoid possible infections within the region.