Two go on trial over Spanish rail crash that killed 80 people

Train driver and rail structure agency’s head of safety charged over 2013 tragedy

The trial begins on Wednesday of two men accused of causing a deadly rail crash in north-western Spain nearly a decade ago and which relatives of those killed say has never been fully investigated.

On July 24th, 2013 a high-speed train travelling at 191 km/h (119mph) derailed on a curve with a speed limit of 80 km/h (50mph) in Angrois, near the city of Santiago de Compostela.

Eighty people died and over 140 people were injured in Spain’s worst rail tragedy in nearly 70 years.

The driver of the train, Francisco José Garzón Amo, and the former head of safety at the rail infrastructure agency ADIF, Andrés Cortabitarte, are each accused of 80 counts of manslaughter and of criminal negligence in causing injuries.


The state prosecutor is demanding four-year jail sentences for both men and that they be temporarily barred from their professions.

ADIF and insurance firms covering the agency and Spanish rail operator Renfe are also facing damages claims totalling €58 million.

The trial is expected to last until July of next year and more than 500 witnesses have been called to testify. The last time Spain saw a comparable case was in 2012, when those charged with responsibility for the Prestige oil spill off the Atlantic coast 10 years earlier went on trial.

An association representing relatives of the victims of the rail tragedy has campaigned for politicians who oversaw the building of the rail line to take responsibility for the crash. This week, members of the association demonstrated outside the national congress building, demanding the resignation of the deputy speaker of congress, Ana Pastor, who was public works minister at the time of the crash.

“We want the truth to be known, for society to know what happened,” said Jesús Domínguez, president of the victims’ association.

“I think they have tried via so many ways to hide the truth and people don’t know about the whole chain of negligence,” he added. “Nearly a decade has passed and there are relatives of victims who have died since and unfortunately, for them there will never be justice.”

It has emerged that a rail management system, which automatically brakes trains that are travelling at excess speeds, had been deactivated at the site of the crash.

A 2015 report by the European Railway Agency found that the Spanish public works ministry’s handling of the crash had been deficient because it had essentially allowed the national rail operator and the infrastructure agency to investigate themselves. It also found that the Spanish inquiry had placed too much emphasis on human error and the driver and did “not sufficiently analyse and conclude on the decisions around the design of the line ... and how any risks were assessed”.

In 2019, a railway mechanic, Pablo Andrés Jara Torres, testified that half an hour after the crash six years earlier, senior figures in Talgo, the manufacturer of the train, ordered all records of the crashed train’s technical failures to be wiped from the computer system. Talgo denied the claim.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain