Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Spanish Train Tragedy 14

As El País has pointed out, not only the Presidents of Adif and RENFE are pointing to the driver as the sole possible cause of the crash but the government, too, is increasingly taking this line. As the paper points out, though, this is just not on. Three days after the tragic event no one has come forward from the two companies to discuss the technical issues and to answer the several questions which have arisen.

As I said earlier, the backcloth to this attitude is the potential loss of a 13 billion euro contract for high-speed rail development in Brazil. So, it's no great surprise to hear Adif and RENFE insisting that this crash had nothing to do with high-speed track, safety systems or trains.

You or I might find this hard to believe but they clearly don't. And it's for this reason that they have to inculpate the driver, insisting that Spain's railways are totally safe so long as the drivers obey the speed limits. Which clearly wasn't the case here. (This, incidentally, is about the only thing everyone agrees on).

So, OK. Let's accept that the train was doing an excessive speed at the bend, possibly even 190kph. And let's agree with the Adif president that the driver should have started to brake 4km from the bend. And let's further agree that his failure to do this was accidental, negligent or deliberate. It doesn't make any difference which.

The real question is - Why wasn't the train slowed or even stopped as a result of the operation of whatever safety system was in place?

And if, as we're told, the answer is - Because this depended entirely on the response of the driver to the signals and warnings he was getting, then the question I'd like to have an answer to is:- If the train was approaching the point where it needed to start slowing down and was doing 200kph, what would happen if the driver had a heart attack here and couldn't act on the warnings?

Are we meant to understand that, with the main driver out of action at this point and the second driver down in carriage 7, there would be nothing to stop the train either coming off the rails at the bend or, worse, smashing into Santiago station?

If not, why not? How do you stop a train which, effectively, has no drivers.


Anonymous said... should stop the train if the driver died or fell asleep, so long as it wasn't very close to a hazard.

Spain's high speed trains, ICE 3, have it. But I'm not sure this train was an ICE 3 locomotive.

Perry said...


This article explains ATP from a British perspective.

The Great Western Railway pioneered an automatic warning system that significantly improved railway safety especially during poor visibility. The impetus for development followed a 'SPAD' (signal passed at danger) accident at Slough in 1900 which killed five people. Known technically as a voltage contact system, it comprised an electric shoe under the locomotive connecting with a ramp between the rails. The ramp was energised depending on the condition of the signals ahead of the train, sounding a bell (all clear) or a horn (caution or danger) in the cab. Trials of the system, initially known as Automatic Train control (ATC) were completed by 1910 and it was installed throughout the GWR over the following years. It remained in use until the mid-1960s. The British Railways system until the advent of the current TPWS (Train Protection and Warning System) used exactly the same principle as the GWR but using elecro -magnets instead of a contact shoe. Great Western locomotives operating on the Gloucester & Warwickshire Railway are all still equipped with the brass bell and electrical equipment in the cab and some have the pickup shoe fitted.

One would think that the analysis of the "black box" recorder would have be made public by now.

All the best,


Perry said...


I should have mentioned that the Great Western Railway ATC system required the driver to respond in the locomotive cab by cancelling the horn and applying the brakes, within a set number of seconds, otherwise the brakes were automatically applied.

ERTMS is the latest system. It has different names in different countries.

Do you remember this crash?

All the best,


Anonymous said...

Colin, For what it's worth I have identified the locomotive as a hybrid (electrical/diesel) RENFE Hybrid train S130H / S730.

A fairly new, modified version of the electrical, dual gauge, dual voltage Class 130 Talgo 250. See

In Ubekistan the Class 130 has been pulling the Afrosiyob high-speed train on the Tashkent to Samarkand line for many years.


Take a ride

I have only just come across, which confirms the locomotive was an S730 and reports that the data recorder gave the train's speed as over 190kph, which is the first black box detail I have seen.

I am sure this website will be the place to go for forthcoming details.

Thank you for your blog, always enjoyable & interesting


Christina said...

This is cool!

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