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TRAGEDY IN GALICIA

Alvia train driver was on phone as he sped at double the limit on the rail track

Black box data shows Garzón was also consulting a document at time of the wreck

Technical police bring the Alvia train’s black boxes to court on Tuesday in Santiago de Compostela. Ampliar foto
Technical police bring the Alvia train’s black boxes to court on Tuesday in Santiago de Compostela. EFE

Data gathered on Tuesday from the Alvia train’s black box recorders shows that the driver was traveling at 192km/h — almost twice the speed limit — right before the vehicle derailed as it went round a sharp curve while approaching Santiago de Compostela, killing 79 passengers on board.

In a statement, Santiago Court Judge Luis Aláez, who is handling the investigation, said that the driver, Francisco José Garzón, was talking on the phone to a Renfe official and consulting a document at the time last Wednesday’s crash occurred.

Garzón has been provisionally charged with 79 counts of homicide and other violations in connection to injuries caused to about 170 people stemming from professional negligence.

Just as he was approaching the A Grandeira curve in Santiago’s Angrois neighborhood, Garzón had received a call instructing him where to go after the train reached its final destination of Ferrol. Based on the recording, the driver was apparently trying to consult a document at the same time.

Aláez met with scientific police to go over the black box tapes recovered from the devastating wreck, which also caused fires in several carriages. Also present were Renfe representatives and officials from Adif, the national railroad infrastructure management agency.

Garzón has acknowledged that he was going at twice the permitted speed when he came around the curve, but he explained to the judge on Sunday that he got confused and even believed he was approaching a similar curve, which he had passed two kilometers earlier. He remains free on his own recognizance.

According to the information in the black boxes, the driver activated the brakes but the train derailed as it hit 153km/h, the court statement said.

Judge Aláez also ordered a safety commission from the Public Works Ministry to examine and test the wheels of the wrecked train in the presence of judicial officers.

The entire process in gathering the information from the black boxes took about five hours. The judge is also expected to order sniffer dogs in the areas that have been closed off near the A Grandeira curve to search for human remains.

Sixty-six injured passengers — 15 of them in critical condition — were still being treated at several Galician hospitals on Tuesday, six days after the crash.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Eduardo Torres-Dulce called on the public “to respect the fundamental rights, the right to defense and the presumption of innocence” of Garzón who had been pointedly blamed for the accident hours after the crash by the heads of Renfe and Adif during separate television interviews.

Meanwhile, the CCOO union has demanded that Adif president Gonzalo Ferré explain why a rail surveillance video, which captured the moment the train jumped the tracks and slammed into a concrete wall, was released. The shocking video was seen around the world hours after the accident.