Railway safety under review after fatal Galicia crash
Chief of Spain’s national rail company appears before parliamentary commission
Wreckage of the front locomotive stands on the road while workers repair the railway in Angrois in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Photograph: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
The boss of Spain’s national train operator has told a parliamentary commission that the company has begun a review of safety in the wake of the railway crash in Galicia last month in which 79 people died.
Julio Gomez Pomar, president of Renfe, was summoned to the commission along with Gonzalo Ferre, president of Adif, the company in charge of Spain’s rail infrastructure.
Mr Ferre revealed to the inquiry that the stretch of track where the accident occurred had originally been planned as a high-speed line but was modified to conventional specifications after the then minister of works, Jose Blanco, decided the high-speed line “didn’t offer any advantages”.
Mr Ferre said a high-speed line would have been fitted with the ERTMS system that would automatically apply the train’s brakes if it was exceeding the speed limit.
Instead, the track was fitted with a system that stops the train only if it is travelling at over 200km/h.
Mr Gomez-Pomar said that before the accident all the signals were green, indicating there was no obstruction on the line, and there had been no reports of any mechanical problems on the train.
Data retrieved from the black box showed that the train derailed at 179km/h on a section of track where the limit is 80km/h.
“We are committed to finding out what caused the accident and we will continue to improve the safety of the Spanish rail system,” he said.
“The system carries 4,700 trains and 1.6 million passengers every day. We will not run the risk of falling into complacency or inaction.”
Mr Ferre told the commission: “Ever since that day, all of us who work in the railway sector have asked ourselves how the accident could have been avoided.
The Spanish rail system is considered one of the best in the world and it’s up to us to ensure that it continues to be. Safety is under constant review.”
Renfe has earmarked €2.7 million in compensation for the victims of the tragedy, Spain’s worst rail accident in 40 years.
Families of the bereaved are to receive €25,000 each, with €5,000 going to the seriously injured and €1,500 to those with light injuries. So far the company has received 23 requests for compensation.
Spain has more high-speed rail track than any country except China and is a world leader in the technology. It is currently building the high-speed link from Mecca to Medina in Saudi Arabia, a contract worth €6.7 billion.
A Spanish consortium is bidding for the €13 billion Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro link and the €14 billion line joining Moscow to St Petersburg.
The rules of tendering for the Brazil contract bar any company that has had a fatal high-speed rail accident in the past five years.
Spanish rail companies are anxious to convince the Brazilian authorities that the train involved in the Galicia crash was an express Altair and not a high-speed AVE, and thus technically it was not a high-speed rail accident.
Guardian News and Media