Spain mourns train crash victims
29 July 2013, 17:13
Santiago de Compostela - Mourners gathered for a memorial
service on Monday for the 79 people killed in Spain's worst train disaster in
decades, after the driver was charged with reckless homicide.
The judge released the driver on bail, charged with 79
counts of reckless homicide, said the regional high court in Santiago de
Compostela, the northwestern pilgrimage city where the crash occurred on
Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, 52, admitted to the judge he
had a "lapse" of concentration while driving the train, Spanish media
reported on Monday, citing court sources.
The heir to the Spanish throne Prince Felipe and Prime
Minister Mariano Rajoy, a native of Santiago, were scheduled to attend the service
at 19:00 (1700 GMT) in Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, a popular Roman
Catholic pilgrimage destination.
Garzon left court after Sunday evening's two-hour hearing
by car for an unknown location. Press photographs showed him in handcuffs, a
gash on his head from the accident and his eyes hidden behind sunglasses.
He has been ordered to report to court every week and
forbidden to leave Spain for six months. His train-driving licence has been
suspended for six months.
Hours before the court hearing began, regional health
officials said a woman critically injured in the crash had died in hospital,
bringing the toll to 79.
The latest victim was a US national, the Galician High
Court said, bringing to nine the total number of foreigners who were killed.
Seventy people were still in hospital, 22 of them in
serious condition, health officials said.
Mourners placed flowers and candles at the cathedral
gates, with handwritten messages of condolence.
"We are really feeling the impact. People are
praying. It is a great tragedy," said 70-year-old Marlen de Francisco, a
souvenir seller at the cathedral square.
"All day people are asking me for note paper so they
can write messages and put them on the cathedral gates."
Reports have suggested the train was travelling at more
than double the speed limit when it flew off the tracks on a sharp bend and
ploughed into a siding.
El Pais newspaper, citing investigation sources, reported
that Garzon had told railway officials by radio that the train had taken the
curve at 190km an hour - more than double the 80kph speed limit for that
section of track.
The president of the Spanish rail network administrator Adif,
Gonzalo Ferre, said Garzon had been warned to start slowing the train "4km
before the accident happened".
State railway company Renfe said the driver had been with
the firm for 30 years, including 13 years as a driver, and had driven trains
past the spot of the accident 60 times.
Friends and colleagues of Garzon have defended him, including
UGT labour union official Angel Gonzalez who described him as "an
El Mundo newspaper on Sunday printed extracts from the
train's route plan, indicating that ahead of the bend the train passed from a
stretch of track with a speed limit of 220kph to one with a limit of 80kph.
Some media reports described Garzon as a speed freak who
had once posted a picture on his Facebook page of a train speedometer at 200kph.
Renfe said the train had no technical problems and had
just passed an inspection on the morning of the accident.
But the secretary general of Spain's train drivers'
union, Juan Jesus Garcia Fraile, told public radio the track was not equipped
with braking technology to slow the train down automatically if the driver failed
to do so when required.
El Mundo quoted Ferre as admitting that the accident
could have been avoided if the track had been equipped with such a system,
which is in place on many high-speed railways.
Cranes and trucks finished heaving away the wrecked train
carriages from the track on Sunday on the outskirts of the city and rail
traffic resumed there early Monday at low speed.