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July 29 2013 2 29 /07 /July /2013 06:21

Spain train crash driver 'admits he was reckless'

Francisco Garzón
Train driver Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, (53) is taken in a police car from police station to the preliminary court in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The high-speed train crashed after it derailed on a bend as it approached the north-western Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela at 8.40pm on Wednesday. At least 79 people have died and over 130 are reported injured. The crash occured on the eve of the Santiago de Compostela Festivities. Photograph: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
Francisco Garzón, centre, has been accused of manslaughter by police but the drivers’ union urged ­caution in the rush to blame. Photograph: Lavandeira Jr/EPA

The driver of the train involved in Spain's worst rail disaster in almost 70 years was freed on bail on Sunday night after reportedly admitting to a judge that he had behaved recklessly.


Police on Friday formally accused 52-year-old Francisco Garzón of manslaughter caused by recklessness.


During the closed-door hearing, Judge Luis Aláez took away Garzón's passport and ordered him to report weekly to the court, according to local media. The driver, accompanied by his lawyer, was questioned for around two hours.


The reports, citing police and judicial sources, said Garzón had admitted reckless behaviour. But it was not clear whether the judge had laid charges against the driver or, if so, whether they were the same as those levelled by police.

Garzón arrived at the court handcuffed and wearing dark glasses. He had a visible bruise on his forehead – the result of a gash that he sustained in the crash and which required nine stitches.


Video evidence and passenger accounts indicate the high-speed Alvia train derailed as it hurtled into a sharp bend outside Santiago de Compostela last week. The death toll from the crash rose to 79 on Sunday after another victim died in hospital.


Garzón was brought to court after spending a night in the cells of city's central police station. As he left hospital on Saturday, he made no response when a relative of one of the injured hurled abuse at him, according to an eyewitness account in the newspaper El Correo Gallego.


The railway drivers' union expressed concern that Garzón had been formally accused before the extraction and analysis of data from the so-called "black boxes".


It is hoped the onboard recorders will offer clues as to why a driver known for his prudence entered the curve at more than twice the 80kph (49mph) limit.


Carla Serrano, 19, from Madrid, who survived the crash with minor injuries, said that seconds before the crash the display panel in her carriage showed the train was travelling at 210kph. Her boyfriend pointed it out to her. "I looked up and said: 'Well, yes,'" she said.


At the weekend, several colleagues and neighbours of Garzón came forward to defend him, describing him as a responsible and cautious driver. Eladio Rodríguez, regional head of the transport sector of the socialist General Workers' Union said: "There have to be causes other than the alleged human error."


Before Garzón testified, claims were made of delays in co-ordinating the rescue operation. The daily El País said it had obtained reports compiled by the emergency services that showed it took two hours to declare the state of alert needed to mobilise help from other provinces.


The inhabitants of the neighbourhood of Angrois, where the crash took place, have been widely praised in Spain for their courageous response to the disaster. Without regard for their own safety, they poured on to the tracks, smashing in the windows of the carriages with rocks to pull out the injured, dead and dying.


But the paper said their efforts were offset by official delays. A mobile communications centre, vital for co-ordinating the work of the rescue services, took 46 minutes to reach the scene, El País said.


The most deadly previous crash was in 1944 when up to 800 people are said to have died at Torre del Bierzo.


The days since the accident have seen the chiefs of the Spanish state rail company, Renfe, and the network operator, Adif, put the blame squarely on the driver. The view the courts take of the crash could have important financial repercussions.


Renfe is among the firms bidding for a €13bn contract to build a high-speed rail link in Brazil. The terms of the tender reportedly exclude firms involved in the running of high-speed train systems where an accident has taken place in the preceding five years.

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