2013-07-25 21:47:55 UTC
Thursday after at least 80 people died when it hit a sharp bend
at speed, derailed and caught fire near the pilgrimage centre of
Santiago de Compostela, in one of Europe's worst rail disasters.
The crash was caused by excessive speed, an official source with
knowledge of the accident investigation told Reuters. However,
the public works minister has said it's too early to say exactly
Dramatic video footage from a security camera outside the
northwestern city showed the train hurtling into a concrete wall
at the side of the track as carriages jack-knifed and the engine
One local official described the aftermath of the crash, on the
eve of one of Europe's biggest Christian festivals in the
ancient city, as like a scene from hell, with bodies strewn next
to the tracks.
The impact was so huge one carriage flew several metres into the
air and landed on the other side of the high concrete barrier.
"We heard a massive noise and we went down the tracks. I helped
get a few injured and bodies out of the train. I went into one
of the cars but I'd rather not tell you what I saw there,"
Ricardo Martinez, a 47-year old baker from Santiago de
Compostela, told Reuters.
The train driver was under formal police investigation, a
spokeswoman for Galicia's Supreme Court told Reuters, without
naming him. The train had two drivers and one was in hospital,
the Galicia government said.
It was not immediately clear which driver was under
investigation or in hospital. The train, operated by state-owned
company Renfe, was built by Canadian company Bombardier and
Spain-based Talgo and was around five years old. It had almost
the maximum number of passengers.
El Pais newspaper said one of the drivers told the railway
station by radio after being trapped in his cabin that the train
entered the bend at 190 km/h. An official source said the speed
limit on that stretch of twin track, laid in 2011, was 80 km/h.
"We're only human! We're only human!" the driver told the
station, the newspaper said, citing sources close to the
investigation. "I hope there are no dead, because this will fall
on my conscience."
Investigators were trying to urgently establish why the train
was going so fast and why failsafe security devices to keep
speed within permitted limits had not worked.
Spain's rail safety record is better than the European average,
ranking 18th out of 27 countries in terms of railway deaths per
kilometres travelled, the European Railway Agency said. There
were 218 train accidents in Spain between 2008-2011, well below
the European Union average of 426 for the same period, the
Cranes were still pulling out mangled debris on Thursday
morning, 12 hours after the crash. Emergency workers had stopped
their search for survivors, the court spokeswoman said.
Firefighters called off a strike to help with the disaster,
while hospital staff, many operating on reduced salaries because
of spending cuts in recession-hit Spain, worked overtime to tend
The disaster happened at 8.41 p.m. local time on the eve of a
major festival dedicated to St James, one of Jesus' 12
disciples, whose remains are said to rest in the city's
The apostle's shrine is the destination of the famous El Camino
de Santiago pilgrimage across the Pyrenees, which has been
followed by Christians since the Middle Ages.
The city's tourism board said all festivities, including the
traditional High Mass at the cathedral, had been cancelled as
the city went into mourning following the crash.
36 hospitalized in serious condition
In total, 178 people were taken to hospital after the crash, a
regional government spokeswoman said. Of those, 95 were still
being treated, of which 36 including four children, were in
serious condition, she said.
U.S. citizens were amongst the injured, the U.S. Embassy said in
a statement and at least one British citizen was wounded, the
British embassy spokesman said. Several other nationalities were
believed to be among the passengers.
One of the train drivers had been sedated, said Juan Jesus
Garcia, the secretary general of the Renfe train drivers union,
adding he hoped to visit him on Thursday.
Neighbours ran to the site to help emergency workers tend to the
wounded. Ana Taboada, a 29-year-old hospital worker, was one of
the first on the scene.
"When the dust lifted I saw corpses. I didn't make it down to
the track, because I was helping the passengers that were coming
up the embankment," she told Reuters. "I saw a man trying to
break a window with a stone to help those inside get out."
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who was born in Santiago de
Compostela, the capital of Galicia region, visited the site and
the main hospital on Thursday. He declared three days of
official national mourning for the victims of the disaster.
Passenger Ricardo Montesco told Cadena Ser radio station the
train approached the curve at high speed, twisted and wagons
piled up one on top of the other.
"A lot of people were squashed on the bottom. We tried to
squeeze out of the bottom of the wagons to get out and we
realised the train was burning. ... I was in the second wagon
and there was fire. ... I saw corpses," he said.
Both Renfe and state-owned Adif, which is in charge of the
tracks, had opened an investigation into the cause of the
derailment, Renfe said.
The official source said no statement would be made regarding
the cause until the black boxes of the train were examined.
The disaster stirred memories of a train bombing in Madrid in
2004, carried out by Islamist militants, that killed 191 people,
although officials do not suspect an attack this time.