The driver of the train that derailed and killed 79 people in Spain was on the phone and traveling at 95 mph (153 kph) — almost twice the speed limit — when the crash happened last week, according to a preliminary investigation released last month. The train had been going as fast as 119 mph (192 kph) shortly before the derailment, and the driver activated the brakes “seconds before the crash,” according to a written statement from the court in Santiago de Compostela. Investigators obtained the information from two “black box” data recorders recovered from the train. The speed limit on the section of track was 50 mph (80 kph).
The crash occurred near Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, and was the country’s worst rail accident in decades. At press time some 66 people were still hospitalized for injuries, 15 of whom were in critical condition. The driver, Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, was talking on the phone to an official of national rail company Renfe when the crash happened, and apparently was consulting a paper document at the time, according to the statement. Garzon has been provisionally charged with multiple counts of negligent homicide.
It appears that the driver received a call on his work phone in the cabin, not his personal cellphone, to tell him what approach to take toward his final destination. The Renfe employee on the telephone “appears to be a controller,” the statement said. “From the contents of the conversation and from the background noise it seems that the driver (was) consulting a plan or similar paper document,” according to the statement. The train was carrying 218 passengers when it hurtled off the tracks last month during the evening. It slammed into a concrete wall, and some of the cars caught fire. The Spanish rail agency has said the brakes should have been applied four kilometers (2.5 miles) before the train hit the curve.
Investigators from the Santiago de Compostela court, forensic police experts, the Ministry of Transport and Renfe examined the contents of the two black boxes recovered from the lead and rear cars of the train. At press time, the investigation was ongoing. The next steps include measuring the wheels on the cars and examining the locomotive. Sniffer dogs have been used to search for human remains in the wreckage.
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