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SANTIAGO RAIL DISASTER

PP: judge should investigate if “ribbon-cutting” haste led to rail flaws

Congressional spokesman breaks tacit agreement to avoid finger-pointing after July train disaster

Popular Party (PP) congressional spokesman Rafael Hernando has suggested that the judge investigating the fatal Santiago train crash of July 24 should determine if the accident “had anything to do with the fact that the initial process [of constructing the line] was modified so that it could be finished sooner for the ribbon-cutting.”

The stretch of high-speed line between Ourense and Santiago, where 79 people were killed and almost 200 injured when an Alvia train derailed, was inaugurated by acting Public Works Minister José Blanco, a Socialist, on December 10, 2011, when the PP was waiting to assume power after winning general elections the previous month.

Although Hernando later softened his statement, his comments represented the first departure from a tacit political pact not to enter into a war of words over a tragedy that shook the nation. “I am not making personal accusations,” he said. “I am stating that there were modifications to the design, as was reported in the Public Works Committee. That is all I wished to say and I reiterate it. The changes were explained at the time. That alterations to the track were made is evident.”

A minister is there for more than a photo opportunity”

Hernando’s comments echo those of PP deputy in the Madrid region, María Teresa Gómez-Limón, who occupied the seat vacated by party heavyweight Esperanza Aguirre in 2012, and was also a passenger on the doomed Alvia.

On Wednesday Gómez-Limón attacked party colleague Ana Pastor, the serving public works minister, for not revising the project that Blanco “inaugurated despite its deficiencies and with great haste so he could cut the ribbon because there were elections.

“A minister is there for more than a photo opportunity,” she said of Pastor, who visited the area after the crash. “Three days after the accident they erected warning signs. Why didn’t they do so three days before to prevent the catastrophe?”

Gómez-Limón is no stranger to speaking her mind: she has previously urged the PP to fight internal corruption in the wake of the Bárcenas affair. This week she called for the immediate resignation of the chiefs of state train operator Renfe and infrastructure manager Adif: “In any other country these gentlemen would have resigned the following day for negligence. They are paid astonishing salaries for their positions of responsibility. It isn’t there just to be collected; it means they also have to perform their duties.”

Hernando did not back Gómez-Limón’s stance. “[Adif president Gonzalo Ferre] has been in the post for three-and-a-half months, so trying to make him responsible for the accident I feel is not reasonable nor justified.” The United Left coalition has also called for Ferre to be dismissed.

“Mr Hernando should be more prudent, out of respect for the victims and justice,” Socialist social policy secretary Trinidad Jiménez said Thursday. “I would remind Mr Hernando of the judge’s initial findings, which state clearly that the project was conceived and designed in a safe manner.”