SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

July 27, 2013

Spain train crash probe turns to driver

(Continued)

“Regardless of the system in place, the drivers know the speed limits. If these are respected, an accident should not take place,” she said. “Whatever speed the train was traveling at, the driver knows beforehand what lies ahead. ... There’s no sudden change in which a driver finds out by surprise that he has to change speed.”

Gonzalo Ferre, Adif’s president, said the driver should have started slowing the train 2.5 miles before the dangerous bend, which comes immediately after the trains exit a tunnel.

He said signs clearly marked this point when the driver must begin to slow “because as soon as he exits the tunnel he needs to be traveling at 80 kilometers per hour (50 mph).”

Spain’s state-run train company, Renfe, described Amo as an experienced driver who knew the Madrid-Santiago route well. It said he had driven that train about 60 times in the past year.

“The knowledge of this line that he had to have is exhaustive,” Renfe’s president, Julio Gomez-Pomar, said in a TV interview.

A senior Spanish train driver, Manuel Mato, said all drivers who operate on that route know they “have to reduce the speed manually, and at this spot the drop is very sharp.” He said the track south of the tunnel is straight and permits speeds of up to 200 kph (125 mph).

An American passenger, Stephen Ward, said he was watching the train’s speed on a carriage display screen — and reported that the train accelerated, not slowed, as it headed for disaster.

He said moments before the crash, the display indicated 121 mph, more than double the speed limit, whereas earlier in the journey, he saw speeds averaging nearer 60 mph.

Ward, an 18-year-old Mormon missionary from Utah, told The Associated Press that seconds after he saw the surprisingly high speed, “the train lifted up off the track. It was like a roller coaster.” He recalled a backpack falling from the rack above him as his last memory before being knocked out.

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