The 2006 Valencia metro crash you've probably never heard of

The Local Spain
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The 2006 Valencia metro crash you've probably never heard of
An injured woman is carried to an ambulance by police officers in the aftermath of the July 3rd 2006 metro crash in Valencia. Photo: AFP.

A tragic metro crash that killed 43 people in Spain's third city is rarely spoken about or even known by many today, with rumours that it was deliberately brushed under the carpet by officials to avoid being charged with negligence.


Ask Spaniards to name the country's worst tragedies in recent memory and they'll probably remember the 2004 Madrid train bombings, the 2017 Barcelona attacks or the 2013 Santiago train crash, but few will mention the Valencia metro crash.

July 3rd 2006 was not an average Monday in Valencia, as the eastern Spanish city prepared to welcome Pope Benedict XVI in five days' time for the 5th World Meeting of Families, a huge international Catholic event held every three years.

But for dozens of Valencian families, that Monday changed their lives forever after a metro train carrying their loved ones derailed on a line in the city centre.

It was, at the time, the deadliest transport accident in Spanish history, and second worst underground accident ever in Europe. And yet, it is rarely discussed in Spain.

In fact, many foreigners and locals in Valencia and elsewhere in the country might not even be aware that it ever happened.


At 13.02pm on that fateful day, a Valencia Línea 1 Metro train carrying 150 people derailed on a curve in the track just a few metres from Jesús station, in the city centre.

The accident killed 43 people, including the driver, and left 47 injured. Twenty-one of the dead were from Torrent, a nearby town on the outskirts of the city and end of the metro line.

Pope Benedict XVI (L) leaves Jesus metro station in Valencia after laying a wreath for the victims. Photo: JAVIER YAYA/AFP.


Incredibly, on the day of the accident, Canal 9, the former public TV channel of the Generalitat Valenciana (at the time governed by the centre-right Partido Popular) did not even change its scheduled programming for the day and instead continued to offer information about the coming visit of Benedict XVI to the city.

A huge public funeral was held two days after the accident, attended by the King and Queen of Spain, and blood donations in the city doubled in a bid to help injured passengers. Pope Benedict XVI also visited the Jesús station to lead the prayers during his visit when he arrived in the eastern coastal city several days later.

And yet, the focus among city officials and regional broadcasters was fixed on the Pope, the World Meeting of Families and the two million pilgrims visiting, even though Valencia's worst tragedy in recent memory had occurred only five days earlier. 

For many years not a single politician or railway executive ever resigned or held responsible for the accident.

And when finally some semblance of justice was given to the families of the victims, years later, it was the result of backroom negotiations and suspended sentences which rarely made headlines. 

Transport executives and PP politicians with an absolute majority in the regional parliament have shifted blame, blocked witnesses, restricted access to relevant documents and even reportedly offered jobs to victims' family members for them to not press charges.

Several cases were opened and reopened, family support networks set up. But the case never officially went to trial.



In the aftermath of the crash, it was found that the train's black box showed it was travelling at 80 km/hour, twice the permitted speed, at the time of the crash.

Therefore, it was initially claimed that the driver was solely responsible for the accident, whether due to professional negligence or by having some sort of medical emergency, possibly due to fainting, as was widely speculated at the time, but as he died in the accident he couldn't be questioned.

Nonetheless, doubts were also cast by victims' families over the condition of the track and a supporting wall that some said may have collapsed. The repeatedly asked for an apology and more accountability from the Valencian government , but regional president Francisco Camps refused to meet them in person. 

Both transport executives from Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat Valenciana (FGV) and local politicians denied on several occasions that there were any structural issues, declaring the line safe. The victims' association converseley argued that FGV had not installed the best safety mechanisms available on the tracks due to their higher cost.

In March 2007 (two months before the regional and municipal elections) the case was formally closed at the request of the Valencian prosecutor's office, with the judge considering that any potential criminal liability had died with the driver.

However, although the decision was confirmed in May 2008 by the First Section of the Provincial Court, a few years later in January 2014, the Second Section of the Court ordered the reopening of the case, by order of the prosecutor's office.

In May 2017, the case was once again dismissed, ruling out any criminal responsibility and stating there was no evidence of a fault in the carriage or the track. According to the expert inspections, everything had been in working order.

Both the prosecutor's office and the victims' association (known as 3 de julio) appealed the decision to dismiss the case again, so in February 2018, the case was reopened and, crucially, this time ordered the prosecution of the ex-manager of FGV and seven other executives for "crimes rights of the workers" with "43 crimes of homicide due to serious professional negligence" and "36 crimes of injury also due to serious professional negligence."


Surprisingly, in February of 2019, when the judge notified the relevant parties of the forthcoming trial, it was never held, as a backroom agreement had been reached between the prosecution and the defence.

In the deal, four of the eight FGV executives accused recognised their responsibility in the accident and accepted a 22-month prison sentence, while the other four were acquitted.

The public prosecutor's office agreed with the private prosecution, and those who were sentenced had sentences suspended as long as they did not commit new crimes within three and a half years.

Though it was justice of some sort for the victim’s families, the entire ordeal gave many the sense that the crash was again being brushed under the carpet.


Indeed a report by Valencia's Journalists Union found that Canal 9 had deliberately hidden information from viewers in the aftermath of the metro crash and distorted information to the benefit of the then-ruling PP.

The same Popular Party that for two decades of governance in the Valencia region was immersed in numerous corruption scandals (Gürtel, Brugal, Terra Mítica, Valmor, Imelsa, Rabassa or Emarsa to name a few), with 130 PP officials having to stand trial, often for syphoning off money from huge public construction projects or offering tenders in return for favours.

Ultimately the sentences of the 2006 Valencia metro crash were underwhelming. 

For the families of the 43 people who lost their lives in that tragic crash, and who for years gathered in central Valencia every third of each month to demand answers, the truth is still out there. 


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