A train from Malaga to Seville derailed on Wednesday morning, eight kilometres from Arahal station in Seville province.
The train had left Malaga at 7.40am and was carrying over 70 passengers when its third carriage came off the track in heavy rainfall around 10 o'clock. More than half of the passengers were injured, according to the 112 Emergency service and the Junta de Andalucía: 35 suffered minor injuries and two were seriously hurt.
The nearby river, which is a tributary of the Guadaíra, had overflowed after a storm during which over 110 litres of rain fell per square metre, and the accident is believed to have been caused by the water washing away the base of the track, which sank as the train passed overhead.
The track was left with no sleepers for a distance over 100 metres, and as a result the last carriage slipped off one side. Passengers say they felt a series of violent shudders, which they described as like being “in an earthquake.”
The ticket inspector who was travelling on the train said on Thursday that the skill of the driver avoided much more serious consequences. "He saw that the tracks were sinking as [the train] passed, reacted quickly and braked," said the secretary general of the union CGT Andalucía. To do that he had to switch off the speed regulator (which also acts as an accelerator) and activate the emergency brake, although inertia meant that the train continued for 200 metres.
Farm workers in the area were the first on the scene to assist the injured and they used tractors to help the ambulances to cross the waterlogged and muddy ground to the train, and to dig them out when they became stuck.
Because of the adverse conditions, the Guardia Civil organised an aircraft and a team from the Military Emergences Unit in Morón was called to assist. Other emergency services used another train, provided by Adif, to reach the spot.
Some medical personnel decided to walk more than three kilometres, with the help of the security forces, because they believed this would be the quickest way of reaching the train and helping the injured passengers.
Accidents such as this are uncommon in Spain. The last of this type was in March 2005 when a train derailed in Antequera after hitting a rock which fell onto the line in bad weather. On that occasion only 20 passengers were on board, and two of them suffered slight injuries.
Questions are now being asked about Wednesday's incident. The train derailed at Km 19.5, on the line which had been closed earlier the same morning because of the heavy rain. Passengers on two previous scheduled services had been transported by road.
The Ministry of Public Works and Transport, Adif (the railway infrastructure administrator) and Renfe are now investigating whether trains should have been permitted to travel again on a stretch of track where there had already been incidents earlier in the day. The Guadaíra river had overflowed, several streams had burst their banks and roads had been cut off, including the A-92.
Wednesday's accident occurred about six kilometres from a stretch which had been cut off between 7.45 and 9.25am because pools of water had formed on the track. The Malaga-Seville train derailed barely half an hour after it had been reopened.
The president of the Junta de Andalucía, Susana Díaz, has asked why the line was reopened “under these conditions”, and the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, Íñigo de la Serna, blames the fact that the Guadaíra river overflowed after the line had been opened. He says there had been no previous problem on that part of the line and the Seville-Malaga train had passed the same spot earlier with no problems.