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TRAIN CRASH

Spain opens trial into 2013 train crash that killed 80

Nine years after a high-speed train crash that killed 80 and injured over 140 in the region of Galicia, a major trial opens on Wednesday to determine responsibility in Spain's worst rail disaster in nearly eight decades.

Spain opens trial into 2013 train crash that killed 80
A firefighter carries a young girl from the train wreckage following the tragic accident that took place on July 24th 2013 not far from the city of Santiago de Compostela and which cost 81 people their lives. (Photo by XOAN A. SOLER and MONICA FERREIROS / LA VOZ DE GALICIA / AFP)

The accident happened on the evening of July 24, 2013, when a train travelling from Madrid veered off the tracks as it hurtled round a sharp bend on the outskirts of Santiago de Compostela, a city in the northwestern region of Galicia.

It was Spain’s deadliest train tragedy since 1944, when hundreds were killed in a collision which also happened on the Madrid-Galicia.

The trial, which is due to run until February 2023 and will hear from 669 witnesses, will take place at a cultural centre in Santiago.

The centre has been transformed into a courtroom to accommodate the large numbers of lawyers and civil parties involved in the hearing.

Two people have been charged with responsibility for the accident — the driver, Francisco Garzón, and the former safety director at state rail operator ADIF, Andres Cortabitarte.

Both are facing charges of “homicide due to gross professional negligence”.

Prosecutors are calling for each to face four years behind bars.

And the victims’ families are claiming nearly €58 million ($58 million) in damages, court documents show.

Wounded train driver Francisco Jose Garzón Amo seen being helped by locals following the tragic accident. (Photo by MONICA FERREIROS and XOAN A. SOLER / LA VOZ DE GALICIA / AFP)

Excessive speed

At the time of the crash, the train was travelling at 179 kilometres per hour (110 miles per hour), more than twice the speed limit for that stretch of track, according to its black box data recorders.

Among the 80 dead were 68 Spaniards and 12 foreigners.

Investigators said the tragedy resulted from a lapse in attention by the 52-year-old driver, who ended a mobile phone call with the onboard conductor before the train lurched off the rails and applied the emergency brake too late.

The courts initially said excessive speed was “the sole cause of the accident”, charging Garzon with reckless homicide and causing injuries.

But its finding that state rail operator ADIF bore no criminal liability was later revised following complaints by the victims’ families.

The families said ADIF, which is in charge of the tracks, bore some responsibility on grounds there was no automatic braking system near the accident site and there was a lack of warning signs before the bend.

As a result, the investigation was reopened in 2016, with prosecutors subsequently charging Cortabitarte for the same crimes.

train accident spain galicia

A year after the crash, train driver Garzón wrote a letter to the victims’ families begging for forgiveness and saying he was “destroyed” by the tragedy. (Photo by OSCAR CORRAL / AFP)

‘We won’t stop fighting’

The families hailed the decision but expressed regret that no politician was held to account — notably Ana Pastor, the infrastructure minister at the time, who had pressured Brussels to head-off a report critical of Madrid.

“Not only was the train derailed but so was justice over these past nine years,” the Alvia 04155 victims’ association said in a statement on Facebook.

It denounced the “slowness” in bringing the case to trial and “lies” by certain elected officials.

“For years, organs of state have worked to clear those who neglected their responsibility and place all the blame on the driver, the last link in the chain,” said the group, which is named after the ill-fated train.

“We will not be silent, and we will not stop fighting until justice is served and the truth is known, until responsibility (for the crash) is established, and we are offered an apology for the way we’ve been treated.”

A year after the crash, Garzón wrote a letter to the victims’ families begging for forgiveness and saying he was “destroyed” by the tragedy.

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TRAIN CRASH

155 lightly injured in train collision near Barcelona

More than 150 people were lightly injured Wednesday when a train ran into the back of another at a station near Barcelona, the emergency services and Spain's Renfe rail operator said.

155 lightly injured in train collision near Barcelona

The SEM regional emergency services said the train had been moving very slowly when the collision occurred just before 8am with most people suffering bumps and bruises.

“There was a collision between two trains at 7:50 am at the Montcada i Reixac-Manresa station, on the line heading in to Barcelona, that’s to say one train ran into the back of another,” a spokesman for the state rail operator told AFP.

Speaking to reporters at the scene, a spokesman for the regional fire service said the moving train had collided with “the back part” of a stationary train at Montcada station, which lies some 10 kilometres (six
miles) north of Barcelona.

The train was moving “very slowly (when the collision occurred) but people who were standing up fell over and hurt themselves,” Joan Carles Gomez, an emergency services official told reporters at the scene.

“We have examined 155 people who were affected, of which 14 were taken for further treatment but none are seriously injured,” he said.

“We’re talking about many bruises and some head injuries, but nothing serious.”

He said those taken for further treatment were being “checked at a local health centre… to rule out any fractures”.

Rail traffic along the line was suspended for several hours in both directions and Renfe had opened an investigation into what happened, he said. 

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