Train crash in Spain kills 80, driver in police custody

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Originally published on July 26, 2013

Excessive speed is thought to be the cause of Wednesday's deadly train wreck in Spain, Reuters reported, and the driver of the train is now in hospital, under police guard.

The 52-year-old driver, Francisco Jose Garzon, had driven trains for 30 years, according to a statement made by Renfe, the state-owned train company. A Galicia regional supreme judge order the police to interview the driver who is now in hospital, Reuters said. The extent and nature of his injuries is unknown.

The crash occurred when the eight-carriage train entered a bend at 190 km/h. The section's speed limit is 80 km/h. Spanish newspaper, El Pais, reported that the driver allegedly reported the train's speed to the railway station by radio, after being trapped in his cabin.

The train was travelling so fast, and the impact was so great, that one of the cars closer to the end of the train was sent into the air and landed on the opposite side of a concrete barrier.

Investigators are now looking at possible causes of the accident. According to the BBC, train experts believe that automatic safety systems should have prevented the crash. The European Train Control System (ETCS), which was in place for long stretches of train's route from Madrid, have safety mechanisms in place that would have made it almost impossible for the driver to exceed speed limits.

Though the ETCS is not implemented in the part of the track where the accident took place, another, less sophisticated system, the ASFA - Anuncio de Senales y Frenado Automatico - should have been, the BBC reported. When functioning, the ASFA should give visual and audio signals to the driver when train speeds are excessive, and then activate the brakes if the driver fails to respond. It remains to be seen whether the safety system failed, or if the driver ignored warnings.

The crash, which killed at least 80 people and injured nearly 100, many of whom were children, took place near the religious pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain.
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