24 July 2013: 79 killed in Spain's worst train crash in 40 years

The accident took place just outside Santiago de Compostela.
The accident took place just outside Santiago de Compostela. / EFE
  • The train from Madrid to Ferrol, with 218 passengers and four crew on board, derailed on a bend a few kilometres outside Santiago de Compostela

Wednesday 24 July 2013 had been a perfectly normal day until 8.41pm, when a passenger train from Madrid Chamartín to Ferrol, in Galicia, derailed a few kilometres outside Santiago de Compostela.

The entire train, consisting of eight carriages, one dining car, two generator cars and a locomotive at each end, left the track as it rounded the A Grandeira bend, and four of the carriages overturned completely. One carriage and the rear generator car caught fire.

The train was carrying 218 passengers and four crew when the accident happened. Seventy-nine people were killed and 139 were injured, dozens of them seriously. This was the country's worst rail accident in 40 years.

Although this service was one of Spain's Alvia high-speed trains, it derailed on a stretch of conventional track with a speed limit of 80 kilometres an hour. However, eye witnesses reported that the train had been travelling at a high speed when it reached that point, and the subsequent investigation revealed that its 'black box' showed a speed of 195 kph when the train was 250 metres before the bend, and 179 kph four seconds later as it derailed. The conventional tracks only have signs to warn of speed limits, so there was no automatic slowing system.

The driver, Francisco José Garzón Amo, told investigators that he had momentarily lost concentration as he approached the bend, and didn't realise he was travelling so fast. Court investigators were told that shortly beforehand he had been on the phone to staff at the Renfe railway operator with a query about the route, and had been checking a map or other document. He did apply the brakes, but it was not enough to slow the train sufficiently. Four days after the crash, he was charged with causing 79 deaths and numerous injuries through professional recklessness and was later sentenced to four years in jail.

On 25 July the government announced three days of national mourning, and safety measures were improved to ensure that trains cannot travel at excessive speeds on that track.