Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Train driver on phone, reading before crash

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MADRID, Spain -- The driver was on the phone with a colleague and apparently looking at a document as his train barrelled ahead at 153 kilometres an hour -- almost twice the speed limit. Suddenly, a notorious curve was upon him.

He hit the brakes too late.

The train, carrying 218 passengers in eight carriages, hurtled off the tracks and slammed into a concrete wall, killing 79 people.

On Tuesday, investigators looking into the crash announced their preliminary findings from analysis of the train's data-recording "black boxes," suggesting human error appears to be the cause of Spain's worst railway disaster in decades.

The derailment occurred late last Wednesday near Santiago de Compostela, a city in northwestern Spain. Some 66 people injured in the crash are still hospitalized, 15 of them in critical condition.

The accident cast a pall over the city, which is the last stop for the faithful who make it to the end of the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route that has drawn Christians since the Middle Ages.

The crash occurred on the eve of annual festivities at the shrine, which subsequently were cancelled.

The disaster also stunned the rest of Spain, with Spanish royals and political leaders joining hundreds of people in Santiago de Compostela's storied 12th-century cathedral Monday evening to mourn the dead.

According to the investigation so far, train driver Francisco Jose Garzon Amo received a call from an official of national rail company Renfe on his work phone in the cabin, not his personal cellphone, to tell him what approach to take toward his final destination.

Garzon was provisionally charged Sunday with multiple counts of negligent homicide.

The investigation is ongoing.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 31, 2013 A11

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