Emergency workers rescue some of the injured passengers. :: EFE
Spain is in mourning after a train travelling between Madrid and Ferrol derailed a few kilometres from Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, on Wednesday evening. At the time of going to press the death toll had reached 78 and at least 130 people were injured, 20 of them critically. A British national is said to be among those who suffered injuries.
The railway administration company Adif has begun an investigation into the cause of the crash, which is the first rail accident involving fatalities in Spain in 40 years. The derailment occurred at 8.41 p.m. and all eight carriages left the tracks. Some of them then caught fire.
Initial hypotheses are focusing on the fact that the train, an Alvia, may have been travelling at twice the permitted speed as it rounded a bend at Angrois, which is about four kilometres from Santiago station. The speed limit at that point is 80 kph, but there have been reports that this train was going at 190
. When this part of the track was inaugurated, less than two years ago, it was described as “complicated” by experts from the Ministry of Public Works. Evidence from one of the drivers, who was found wandering dazed after the crash, could be crucial as he is reported to have said during a conversation via radio that the train was going much faster that it should on that bend.
The tremendous noise of the derailment, which several people have described as resembling an explosion, alerted local residents, many of whom rushed to the scene to try to help the victims. Some of the passengers had been thrown from the train while others were trapped inside the carriages. Personal belongings were strewn all around the area.
Experts from Adif and Renfe also rushed to the crash site to help rescue passengers and clear the track as soon as possible. All through the night a team of 200 people, with the help of two enormous cranes, worked on lifting the two carriages which had been most badly damaged in the crash and then moving them to the side of the road, which is about five metres above the railway line. Due to the impact of the crash, the train’s third carriage had been thrown up into the air and had landed on that same road. A team of fire fighters managed to climb into the carriages and remove seats and other objects to ensure that nobody else had been trapped inside.
Week of mourning
The Wednesday evening Madrid-Ferrol train had been packed, carrying 218 passengers as well as four crew, because July 25th is National Day in Galicia and many people were travelling to the region to participate in the celebrations. The government of Galicia has cancelled all the events which had been scheduled and has decreed that seven days of official mourning will take place.
The Xunta made an urgent call for blood donors to go to the Galicia Transfusion Centre in Santiago or the Clínico Hospital to ensure that there were enough supplies to treat the injured. Meanwhile, anxious relatives gathered in the Cersia building, where the regional government had prepared assistance for them, and they were asked to provide all possible details which might help rescuers to identify the victims. The names of those killed could not be revealed until the bodies had been identified and an autopsy had been carried out, thus extending the uncertainty and agony of those who were waiting for news. This caused considerable distress, but the Governmental delegate, Samuel Juárez, said the identifications had to be carried out in accordance with a protocol and it was important that no mistakes were made. He apologised to families, but asked for their understanding and patience.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who had been in constant contact with the authorities in Santiago, visited the scene on Thursday morning with the Minister of Public Works, Ana Pastor and the President of Galicia, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, before going on to visit injured passengers at the Clínico Hospital. He also held a crisis meeting with the government, the Xunta and the local council.
Tracks and speeds
The Alvia train on the Madrid-Ferrol route uses some of the track for the high speed AVE trains as well as conventional tracks. Between Madrid and Olmedo it runs on the AVE track, then changes to the conventional one between Olmedo and Orense before returning to the AVE track between Orense and Ferrol. At the entrance to Santiago de Compostela, the AVE track on which the derailment occurred lies beside the conventional track. Some media reports have claimed that the signs on this stretch of the high speed track have not been replaced, although officials have denied that this is so.
According to ADIF, the stretch of track where the accident occurred has two signalling systems. One is the digital ASFA (Anuncio de Señales y Frenado Automático), an automatic alarm system with a mechanism which stops a train if it travels faster than the permitted speed, and the other is ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System), an in-cab control that provides continuous information and adapts the speed of the route. The first is useful up to 200 kph, and the second can be used at any speed.