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Santiago train driver “should have braked four kilometers earlier”

Statements confirm theory that locomotive was traveling too fast

Authorities lower accident death toll from 80 to 78

The driver of the train that crashed in Santiago de Compostela on Wednesday should have begun to put the brakes on four kilometers before taking the curve where the accident happened, according to the president of state rail infrastructure company Adif, Gonzalo Ferre, who on Friday implicitly laid the blame for the deadly crash squarely at Francisco José Garzón’s door.

In an interview with the Efe news agency, Ferre said that “four kilometers before the location of the accident, [the driver] is notified that he must reduce his speed, because as he comes out of the tunnel he has to be going at 80 [km/h].”

Ferre also claimed that all of the safety systems on the train had worked correctly, and that the driver would have had a route map with all of the speed limits clearly marked on it. “If not,” Ferre added, “he would be just another passenger.”

These statements appeared to confirm what security camera footage of the incident seems to show: that the train derailed due to excess speed on a sharp corner.

However, on Friday morning, the president of the rail firm Renfe, Julio Gómez-Pomar, told TV station Antena 3 that the train driver had passed the point where the accident happened more than 60 times, and as such should have an “exhaustive” knowledge of the line.

On Friday, efforts to identify the victims of the crash continued. The authorities also lowered the death toll from 80, where it had stood on Thursday night, to 78.

In terms of the scores of people who were injured in the accident — which was caused when an Alvia train from Madrid to Ferrol derailed just outside the provincial capital of Galicia — four people were discharged from hospital on Friday morning, leaving the number of people still under observation at 81.

On the second of three days of official mourning declared by the government, the “priority task” of identifying the bodies, in the words of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, was nearly complete.

The coordinator of the forensic police team working in Santiago, Antonio de Amo, told a press conference on Friday morning that 72 of the 78 bodies had been positively identified. The DNA testing needed for the remaining bodies will take a few more days, meaning that the official list of victims may not be announced before next week.

What was known on Friday morning, and communicated to the assembled press, was the breakdown of victims by their home provinces. Most of the fatalities, 16 in total, came from A Coruña, followed by 11 from Madrid and five from Cádiz.

Del Amo explained that the identification process was aided by the Spanish DNI identity card system, which includes fingerprint records.

The remains of the victims that had been identified were handed over to their families on Friday. The relatives were being taken care of by a team of police officers, doctors and psychologists specializing in grief counseling.

Volunteers from the Red Cross were also accompanying the family members at a convention center that has been converted into a makeshift morgue. A temporary legal office there allows for the necessary paperwork to be quickly dealt with, permitting families to make their arrangements as soon as possible (in Spain funerals are usually held a day or two after a death).

In the midst of the tragedy, a few positive stories emerged on Friday. A young girl who was in a critical condition improved sufficiently to be moved out of the intensive care unit. That left 31 people in a critical condition, three of whom are children.

Also on Friday, Garzón, who sustained light injuries in the accident, exercised his right to refuse to make a statement to police, as was expected. The judge in charge of the investigation has ordered the police to secure the black box from the train, as well as documents, reports, videos and other evidence relating to the incident.

One of the key elements of the investigation will focus on the safety systems on the Alvia intercity trains. On these locomotives, automatic braking systems will only kick in if the train exceeds speeds of 200km/h. Under this limit, it is down to the driver to control the velocity of the convoy, although speed warnings do sound should the train be traveling too fast.

This is in contrast with the AVE high-speed trains, whose braking systems automatically kick in should a train be traveling too fast on a particular section of the track.