Spain train crash: Driver was on the phone

Messages, flowers and candles left in memory of the victims of the July 24 train crash. Picture: Getty

Messages, flowers and candles left in memory of the victims of the July 24 train crash. Picture: Getty

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The driver of the train that derailed and killed 79 people in Spain was on the phone and travelling at 95mph – almost twice the speed limit – when the crash happened, according to a preliminary investigation.

The train had been going as fast as 119mph shortly before last week’s derailment, and the driver activated the brakes “seconds before the crash”, according to a written statement from the court in Santiago de Compostela The speed limit on the section of track was 50mph.

Investigators gained the information from two “black box” data recorders recovered from the train.

The tapes also revealed that The driver, Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, was receiving instructions on the route to take to his final destination and may have taken his eyes off the track to consult a map.

The crash occurred near Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain, and was the country’s worst rail accident in decades. Dozens of passengers are still in hospital.

Mr Garzon was talking on the phone to an official at the national rail company, Renfe, when the crash happened and apparently was consulting a document at the time, the statement said.

The driver received a call on his work phone in the cab, not his personal mobile phone, to tell him what approach to take toward his final destination. The Renfe employee on the telephone “appears to be a controller”, the statement said.

“From the contents of the conversation and from the background noise it seems that the driver [was] consulting a plan or similar paper document,” the statement said.

Investigators from the Santiago de Compostela court, forensic police experts, the Ministry of Transport and Renfe examined the contents of the two black boxes recovered from the lead and rear carriages of the train.

The investigation is ongoing. The next steps include measuring the wheels on the carriages and examining the locomotive, the statement said, without providing an explanation for those checks. Sniffer dogs will also be used to search for human remains in the wreckage, it said.

The train was carrying 218 passengers when it hurtled off the tracks last Wednesday evening. It slammed into a concrete wall, and some of the carriages caught fire. The Spanish rail agency has said the brakes should have been applied 2.5 miles before the train hit the curve.

Mr Garzon, 52, was arrested the day after the crash. Investigating judge Luiz Alaez released him following a two-hour session of questioning, naming him as an official suspect into a multiple manslaughter inquiry expected to last at least several months.

Mr Garzon admitted carelessness and speeding at the closed hearing on Sunday and is said to have claimed he thought he was on another section of track when he crashed.

Under Spanish law, he has not yet been charged or formally accused of any crime.

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