Spanish judge wants to question track security

AP News
Posted: Aug 20, 2013 11:33 AM

MADRID (AP) — Nearly a month after a train crash killed 79 people in Spain, the judge investigating the tragedy said Tuesday he wants to question whoever is responsible for rail security in the area where the accident occurred as a suspect in the case.

Attention has focused on driver Francisco Jose Garzon Amo's responsibility after he admitted he was going too fast when the July 24 crash occurred. He has been provisionally charged with multiple counts of negligent homicide.

Judge Luis Alaez asked the Adif rail infrastructure company Tuesday to identify the person, or people, in charge of rail security on the fatal stretch so that they can be questioned as suspects. All others called to the court so far have been witnesses in the slow-moving investigation.

In a statement, Alaez said that while other factors may have played a role in the derailment, "the essential cause" was the driver's excessive speed. But the judge said those overseeing safety on that stretch of track might be partially responsible.

Preliminary findings show the train was going at 195 kph (121 mph), more than twice the area's speed limit, when it crashed on a tight curve outside the northwestern city of Santiago de Compostela.

Garzon admitted he was talking on a company cellphone to a colleague seconds before the train derailed. He was unable to explain why he had not slowed down.

The judge said the posting of a warning sign indicating speed should be reduced from 200 kph to 80 kph some 300 meters (yards) before the curve "apparently was not enough to avoid the outcome of the accident."

Alaez asked Adif, the state rail company Renfe, and the Public Works ministry to supply reports on speed limits, signs and track incidents along the accident stretch.

Spain recently said it will review speed limits and security systems throughout its rail network to avoid another train crash.

It said high-tech signaling systems will be installed on stretches where speeds must be reduced sharply. Those systems automatically apply the brakes if a train exceeds the speed limit and have been installed along the dangerous Santiago de Compostela curve since the crash happened, authorities said.