A youth leans against a wall under a giant Spanish flag flying at half mast in Colon Square in Madrid

A youth leans against a wall under a giant Spanish flag flying at half mast in Colon Square in Madrid

Train driver was on phone, speeding during crash: probe

The driver was on the phone with a colleague and apparently looking at a document as his train barrelled ahead at 95 mph (153 kph) — almost twice the speed limit. Suddenly, a notorious curve was upon him. He hit the brakes too late.

MADRID, Spain — The driver was on the phone with a colleague and apparently looking at a document as his train barrelled ahead at 95 mph (153 kph) — almost twice the speed limit. Suddenly, a notorious curve was upon him.

He hit the brakes too late.

The train, carrying 218 passengers in eight carriages, hurtled off the tracks and slammed into a concrete wall, killing 79 people.

On Tuesday, investigators looking into the crash announced their preliminary findings from analysis of the train’s data-recording “black boxes,” suggesting that human error appears to be the cause of Spain’s worst railway disaster in decades.

The derailment occurred near Santiago de Compostela, a city in northwestern Spain, late last Wednesday. Some 66 people injured in the crash are still hospitalized, 15 of them in critical condition.

The accident cast a pall over the city, which is the last stop for the faithful who make it to the end of the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route that has drawn Christians since the Middle Ages. The crash occurred on the eve of annual festivities at the shrine, which subsequently were cancelled.

The disaster also stunned the rest of Spain, with Spanish royals and political leaders joining hundreds of people in Santiago de Compostela’s storied 12th-century cathedral Monday evening to mourn the dead.

According to the investigation so far, train driver Francisco Jose Garzon Amo received a call from an official of national rail company Renfe 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,” a person who organizes train traffic across the rail network, said a statement from a court in Santiago de Compostela, where the investigation is based.

“From the contents of the conversation and from the background noise it seems that the driver (was) consulting a plan or similar paper document.”

The statement on the preliminary findings did not indicate whether such a phone conversation is common between a driver of a moving train and a controller, and it did not say how long the call lasted. It did not name the Renfe official who called the driver, nor did it further describe what plan or document the driver was consulting.

The train had been going as fast as 192 km/h shortly before the derailment, and the driver activated the brakes “seconds before the crash,” according to the statement. The speed limit on the section of track where the crash happened was 80 km/h.

Authorities have said that a high-tech automatic braking program called the European Rail Traffic Management System was installed on most of the high-speed track leading from Madrid north to Santiago de Compostela — the route Garzon’s train took. But the cutting-edge coverage stops just 5 kilometres (3 miles) south of where the crash occurred, placing a greater burden on the driver to take charge.

The Spanish rail company has said the brakes should have been applied four kilometres (2.5 miles) before the train hit the curve.

A court spokeswoman told The Associated Press that the boxes “did not indicate any technical failures” contributed to the accident. She spoke on condition of anonymity because court regulations bar her from identifying herself by name.

Garzon was provisionally charged Sunday with multiple counts of negligent homicide. He was not sent to jail or required to post bail because none of the parties involved felt there was a risk of him fleeing or attempting to destroy evidence, according to a court statement.

Investigators from the 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.

But the investigation is ongoing and could last several more weeks. The next steps include measuring the wheels on the cars and examining the locomotive, the statement said, without providing an explanation for those checks.

Sniffer dogs will also be used to search for human remains in the wreckage, it said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre's expansion project is still a high priority, says Alberta Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer hospital ICU admissions stable, but rising, says surgeon

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s intensive care unit is in better… Continue reading

Alberta recorded a single-day record of over 57,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered. (Photo courtesy Alberta Health Services Twitter)
Alberta hits daily record of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

Central zone has administered 111,735 doses of the COVID-19

Alberta reported an additional 1,980 cases of COVID-19 Friday. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Red Deer adds 37th death from COVID-19, active cases drop

Alberta Health identified an additional 1,980 cases of the virus province-wide

A rodeo south of Bowden drew a huge crowd on May 1 and 2, 2021. (Photo courtesy Mom’s Diner’s Facebook page)
FILE - A firefighter wears a mask as he drives his truck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward, File
VIDEO: Flames rip through Edmonton-area seniors complex, but no fatalities

ST. ALBERT, Alta. — Fire has destroyed part of a retirement complex… Continue reading

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman didn’t expect to get hit with a double whammy at… Continue reading

A courtroom at the Edmonton Law Courts building, in Edmonton on Friday, June 28, 2019. The effect of the coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting impact on the Canadian justice system warn a number of legal experts. The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench announced Sunday it would adjourn all scheduled trials across the province for at least 10-weeks limiting hearings to only emergency or urgent matters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton mother found guilty of manslaughter in death of five-year-old girl

EDMONTON — An Edmonton woman was found guilty Friday of manslaughter in… Continue reading

A Statistics Canada 2016 Census mailer sits on the key board of a laptop after arriving in the mail at a residence in Ottawa, May 2, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Statistics Canada sees more demand to fill out census online during pandemic

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says the response to the census is higher… Continue reading

Travellers, who are not affected by new quarantine rules, arrive at Terminal 3 at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Ottawa will create a new digital platform to help in processing immigration applications more quickly and efficiently after COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for a faster shift to a digital immigration system, the immigration department said. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ottawa to create new system to tackle delays in processing immigration applications

Ottawa says it will create a new digital platform to help process… Continue reading

A man on a skateboard and a young woman pass large letters spelling out UBC at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver on November 22, 2015. The federal government is writing off more than $200 million in outstanding student loan payments that officials will never be able to collect. Recently released spending documents show the government won't collect $203.5 million in debts from 34,240 students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. Human Rights Tribunal to hear complaint against UBC Okanagan

VANCOUVER — A B.C. Human Rights Tribunal hearing is set to start… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday’s $25 million Lotto max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the $25 million jackpot… Continue reading

FILE - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
States scale back vaccine orders as interest in shots wanes

MADISON, Wis. — States asked the federal government this week to withhold… Continue reading

Toronto FC coach Chris Armas talks with his players during a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second leg soccer match against Mexico's Cruz Azul at Azteca stadium in Mexico City, Tuesday, May 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Fernando Llano
Toronto FC coach Chris Armas returns to Red Bull Arena to face former team

Toronto FC coach Chris Armas returns to Red Bull Arena to face former team

Most Read