The anniversary might have been forgotten in the UK – after all, there are all manner of horrors elsewhere in the world to occupy the news bulletins – but in Spain, memories are still fresh: the derailment one July evening last year of a Madrid to Ferrol train on the Angrois curve near Santiago de Compostela. Investigations continue into the causes of the accident in which 79 people died.
A 130 series train at Alacant Terminal. The 730 series trains are converted from these sets
One good thing to come out of those investigations is that efforts to pin the blame on the driver, Francisco José Garzón, have proved less than totally successful. This may be due to his immediate admission that he “failed”, that he confessed to being distracted in the moments before the train entered the Angrois curve. It may also be due to an understanding that wider failures may have occurred.
As El Pais has noted, “Besides Garzón, there are 12 other people under court investigation, all former execs at Adif, the state company that manages railway infrastructure in Spain”. There was no overspeed prevention on the approach to the curve, and the most modern safety system – ETCS – was switched off on the 730 series trains, the type involved in the accident, because it was “buggy”.
The new line from Ourense to Santiago de Compostela will eventually form part of a longer high-speed link, at which point the track may be re-gauged to match other “pure” high speed lines in Spain. It was opened in a very much interim mode; the suggestion of a rush job and lack of initial fitness for purpose runs through much of the investigation. But other problems remain unanswered.
That 79 out of 222 on board the train died is a horrendous proportion of fatalities. Yet there seems to have been little questioning of the survivability of the Talgo-type coaches, especially given the reports of parts of the seats and other fixtures coming loose and flying around the coaches in the immediate aftermath of the derailment. Compare with Hatfield – similar speed, only six fatalities.
And the stability of the generator cars that house the diesel engines which enable the 730 series trains to work beyond the limits of electrification does not appear to have been questioned: the video of the derailment clearly shows that the front generator car was the first vehicle to leave the track, effectively dragging the front power head onto its side and pulling the following coaches off the track with it.
Meanwhile, the unfortunate driver is left in limbo with charges for those 79 deaths hanging over him. Rail watchers in the UK will see parallels with the press campaigns against Larry Harrison, the driver of the train involved in the Southall crash, and the family of Michael Hodder, the driver of a Thames Trains service that overran a red signal and precipitated the Ladbroke Grove collision.
Due process continues slowly. Hopefully it will reach a conclusion soon.