Those in the UK will be familiar with industry figures being summoned to give evidence, and be cross-examined, by Parliamentary select committees. Now the heads of Spanish rail operator Renfe and infrastructure company Adif have been called before a hearing of Congress’ Committee on Development, which is something similar. So they have been suitably grilled.
And the main charge laid before Julio Gómez-Pomar of Renfe and Gonzalo Ferre of Adif is over their apparent rush to pin the July 24 derailment on driver Francisco José Garzón. This now appears to be being rowed back – as I noted recently – along with the emergence of a possible explanation as to why the European Train Control System (ETCS) was not being used by the train concerned.
It was alleged during the hearing in Congress this morning that it was not just the 730 series trains that were working between Ourense and Santiago de Compostela along the newly opened line fitted with ETCS, but not using it. It appears that this was the situation with most trains: a figure of five out of every six was pitched. This could be down to the hybrid status of the line.
Most of Spain’s main line network is laid to what is known as Iberian Gauge, with the rails approximately 1668mm apart. Recently constructed high speed lines are laid to what in the UK is known as Standard Gauge, and more often as UIC Gauge, with the rails 1435mm apart. But the new line from Ourense to Santiago is laid to Iberian Gauge, despite using high frequency AC electrification.
This brings the convenience of doing away with gauge changers, and allows types of train that do not have the ability to change gauge to traverse the route. But for some reason, this appears to have stopped ETCS working properly (all other Spanish installations of ETCS are on standard gauge lines). And no action was taken while ETCS was being sorted out. Budget cuts are being blamed.
Meanwhile, Ferre has explained that all proposals for the approach from the new line to Santiago de Compostela included the severely curved route via the suburb of Angrois, and that no objection was raised at the time, but this is disingenuous: it’s a similar line to saying the Paddington resignalling was signed off, which it was, although there was no overrun protection, and thus Ladbroke Grove happened.
One final point that will interest watchers in the UK is the suggestion that Spain have a national body for rail safety, as there is for air traffic. That would correspond to the RAIB in the UK, which is the rail equivalent of the AAIB. The UK came to create the RAIB as a modern and credible successor to the old Railways Inspectorate (RI), and an equivalent body in Spain would be one positive thing to come out of this affair.
There will be more to come, as crash investigators continue their work. More soon.