Welcome To Zelo Street!

This is a blog of liberal stance and independent mind

Thursday 8 August 2013

Spain Train Crash – The Committee Grilling

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.


Roger Ford said...

For me the real issue is how a "straightforward" derailment, killed more people than Southall and Ladbrook Grove. Those were high energy collisions.

Tim Fenton said...

Sudden deceleration against that retaining wall a factor, but there must be questions about Talgo coaches.

There seems to have been a lot of stuff flying around - possibly even seats - and where (say) a Mk 3 would have its crumple zone, the modern Talgo coach has those suspension legs.

I expect the front generator car coming off the track and effectively hurling the coaches behind it into the wall will not have helped.

SteveB said...

"the suggestion that Spain have a national body for rail safety" - pardon????

I thought it was part of EU interoperability regulations that all countries already had one!

RAIB does not replace the HMRI. That lives on under the umbrella of ORR but still with the same inspection and enforcement powers. They "police" safety standards and try to get in before anything goes wrong - they can order a stop on anything from a single piece of equipment to an entire company. They can also prosecute companies and individuals. RAIB are the after-the-event investigators working within the DfT, years ago retired Majors would do a quick review for the old MoT but these people are now more like CSIs. They get to the reason for an incident and recommend actions. HMRI can use their results for prosecution.

The DfT has RAIB, AAIB and a MarineAIB - obviously there is no RoadAIB - we'd need to cancel Trident to pay for that!

Dave H said...

Roger - the train split in to 3 parts and the 'lucky' central section of Talgo cars went off tangentially and up the banking and street alongside the railway.

The front section of the train was jerked off as the flailing loose end (the Talgo car seen to climb up and separate from the middle section) catches the end of the wall and takes an immense hit to pull the loco and generator car back. Even the slow speed of Pitlochry (1983) put a massive bend in the BG when it landed across the wing wall and pulled the train apart, applying the brakes. This was at around 3 times that speed.

A second Talgo car lifts and splits out the centre section of the train and the rear section (with the weight of the loco and generator keeping it on or following the curve than slams in to the now stationary front part of the train, effectively replicating Ladbroke Grove/Southall but without the integrity of the train held in line by its couplings and gangway connections. The structural integrity of the front section trailing Talgo cars was already badly compromised by the side impact and orientation of the 'strong axis' across the path of the incoming rear section, causing carriages to override each other.

Something happened to send a ripple through the train at a point where the CCTV is not clear due to the OHL mast obscuring that point on the curve. Was it a full service brake application, or a small defect in the track (track twist, soft spot sinking under the excessive high rail forces, a locally reduced radius for the curve (as Morpeth)) each just that little nudge when the train has eaten in to the generous margin of safety of the posted speed limit.

Tim Fenton said...


Except, as I keep telling you - go and look again at the video - the front generator car is the first off, having tipped up and left the track.

The generator cars are most unlikely to split from the Talgo coaches, as they not only share a steering axle with the adjacent coach, they also share suspension dampers with them.

There is no "ripple" being sent through the train. The video has been viewed by a professor at the University of Granada, and he has reached the same conclusion I did.

You may come back on this, but you ain't getting that one past me.