Sunday 24 September 2017

Mourners remember 79 victims of Spanish rail disaster

Silvio Castellanos Santiago De Compostela

Mourners have packed a memorial service for the 79 people who died in Spain's worst rail disaster in decades, as investigators prepared to analyse information from the train's data recording device, or "black box".

The driver of the train, 52-year-old Francisco Garzon, has been charged with 79 counts of negligent homicide and released pending trial after a judge determined he was not a flight risk.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Prince Felipe were among mourners at yesterday's Mass in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, site of a religious shrine in north-western Spain where the high-speed train derailed after going through a tight curve too fast.

Investigators are beginning to analyse data from the train's data recording device today, trying to discover how Mr Garzon exceeded speed limits despite a control system meant to force him to slow down.

"From the very first moment, the families that have lost their loved ones have been in our hearts and the hearts of Galicia and Spain," Archbishop Julian Barrio said in his homily, adding that the families affected by a bus accident in Italy on Sunday night were also in his prayers.

After the service, Prince Felipe, the archbishop and political leaders passed amongst the mourners and offered individual condolences to the families.

Sixty-nine people remained in hospital yesterday, with 22 in critical condition.

At 8.41pm local time last Wednesday the eight-carriage, high-speed train crumpled and caught fire after slamming into a concrete wall.

Examining Magistrate Luis Alaez questioned Mr Garzon in a two-hour hearing behind closed doors on Sunday. Local media reported that Mr Garzon admitted to the judge that he took the curve too fast, saying he had a momentary lapse and forgot what part of the track he was on.

Still, investigators are looking into whether the train safety system was also to blame.

The disaster happened just a few kilometres before the Santiago station, on a part of the track where it is up to the driver to heed automatic signals in the cabin that warn him or her to slow to 80kmh after coming out of a high-speed section of track where speeds are up to 200kmh.

Irish Independent

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