Hardly had I pointed up the parallel between last week’s derailment near Santiago de Compostela, and the Southall crash in 1997 – the attempts in both cases to blame the driver and hope that the press doesn’t look too closely at other issues – than the black box recorders were examined and there was another convenient leak to the media, telling that Francisco José Garzón was on the phone.
Yes, when the train derailed, the driver was on the phone. The conclusion was straightforward: it was Him Wot Done It. But, as with all the other attempts to tell the press to “look over there”, this line did not hold for long before the black and white characterisation of events took on more of those inconvenient shades of grey. Someone from train operator Renfe made the call.
But calling the driver on his work mobile is restricted to emergencies. So the hunt was on for the culprit. Was it a controller? A signaller? To save them all a lot of fuss, Garzón came forward and explained that it was neither: the train’s guard (conductor or supervisor if you prefer) had made the call. Antonio Martín then explained that he was passing a request for the station stop at Pontedeume.
He wanted to be able to detrain a family group more easily, by having the train use the platform road nearest the station building. Given that the area – according to infrastructure operator Adif’s network statement – uses automatic block signalling, that would have required Garzón to contact Control. Hopefully, there was no suggestion that he did it from the cab while on the move.
Meanwhile, the rest of the information from the black box recorders – which clearly use the airline standard of taking both data and voice recordings – was being sidelined, which may be convenient for some participants, but was as revealing as the phone call from the guard. For starters, Garzón had applied the brakes when he realised where he was, and wiped 40km/h off the train’s speed.
So when the derailment came, it was doing 153km/h (95mph), which, although it would have been momentarily uncomfortable for the passengers, should not have resulted in disaster – if it had not been for those diesel generator cars tipping over, dragging everything else off the track and into the concrete retaining wall. And it’s not just my opinion, but also that of a professor of physics.
Quirantes Arturo Sierra is a physics professor at the University of Granada. He has explained that, because of its high centre of gravity, “the diesel generator van went off the road, dragging the rest of the cars”. Otherwise the train would probably not have derailed. So while efforts continue to blame Francisco José Garzón, don’t be surprised if Renfe quietly take the 730 series trains out of service.
There is more to come. And it would help the authorities if they came clean.