Monday, July 29, 2013

The Spanish Train Tragedy 17

After his first - 2 hour - session with the investigating judge, the driver of the train has been been freed 'with charges'. His passport's been retained and he has to report weekly to a police station. He's also been debarred from driving trains. As if he'd want to.

One wonders where he will go to be safe. Thanks to the media feeding frenzy, his house in Madrid has been ransacked and he must be in some danger of physical attack.

For some reason, the judge has felt it necessary to stress it wasn't he who ordered the driver's arrest, but the police.

The police have formally refuted one of the allegations against him - that he was on the phone when the train crashed. However, there's no news of the opening of the black box and analysis of its contents. Pending a request from the judge, it remains under police lock and key.

The presidents of both Adif and RENFE have yet to hold any sort of press conference or to make a formal statement. In magazine interviews, they've both pointed at driver negligence. As have government spokespeople.

This being Spain, there are a number of conspiracy theories already in circulation and doubtless there'll be more:-

  • There's a figure climbing down one of the stanchions as the train passes.
  • There are a couple of obstacles on the line that derailed the train.
  • One of the carriages exploded before the train came off the rails.
  • The fire in one of the carriages was unprecedented. This never happens with train crashes.

I guess we're expected to think there was some sort of (Islamic) terrorist activity.

Finally . . . El País advises that "The merest question as to whether human error would be enough to cause the catastrophe or whether there was also a security failure is interpreted both by the regional and national governments as an attempt to smear the reputation of the AVE high-speed network in Spain, one of the best bets for internationalising the economy via contracts en Brazil, Russia, the USA and Kazakhstan."

Not as a search for the truth, then.


Alfred B. Mittington said...

What? It isn't a plot by the dark forces behind the PP to divert attention away from the Barcenas black money scandal?

Anonymous said...

Colin, All "accidents" have a multitude of causes - Each of which, were it not to have been in place, would have prevented the accident from occurring.

Clearly, this experienced driver was directly in control of the train's speed, so he was a prime cause of the accident. So long as he survives there is little doubt he will be imprisoned for a long time.

Two safety systems are relevant, ETCS for the high speed section and Asfa for the ordinary track.

Q1 How did this Class 730 train interact with these two systems?

Q2 How was the decision made regarding these interactions? Who, where, why, when?

There was an article in the International Railway Journal which purported to answer Q1. It was at but has since been pulled "404 Page not found"

Fortunately I saved a copy. Here it is
"The accident occurred in the transition section between ETCS Level 1, which is used on the 87km Ourense – Santiago high-speed line over which the train had travelled, and the standard Spanish Asfa system used on the conventional network. Santiago is one of dozens of ETCS-Asfa transition points on the Spanish network.

IRJ has learned from a senior source at Renfe that while ETCS is operable on the Ourense – Santiago high-speed line, class 730 sets of the type involved in the derailment operate exclusively on Asfa on this route despite the fact that they are equipped with ETCS. All other passenger trains operating on this line, including the fleet of class 121 Avant emus, operate on ETCS. The reasons for this have not yet been firmly established.

However, the final ETCS balise on the high-speed line, which is situated 4km from the crash site, would only inform the driver that he is exiting an ETCS section, that all automatic driving modes are disabled, and that manual driving mode is active. This means that if ETCS was in use the accident may still have occurred, and any train could in theory enter the 80km/h section at 200km/h. Drivers of Avant trains brake manually on the section where the accident occurred because the driver interface does not display a braking curve in the transition section between ETCS and Afsa.

The train passed Asfa distant signal E7 4km before the derailment, and E7 150m from the crash site.

Both Asfa and the more advanced Asfa Digital are automatic train protection (ATP) systems, but the latter provides the driver with information on braking curves while standard Asfa only triggers an emergency brake application if a signal has been passed at danger. It is unclear at this stage which version of Asfa is installed on the line.

The operation of both systems is linked to the interlockings but not to speed limits, which must be observed by the driver at all times.

This means that when a route is set on a main line with signals showing a green aspect, no command is triggered onboard the train to adjust the speed. The accident could only have been prevented by the Asfa signal before the curve where the derailment occurred if the following signal, positioned on the approach to Santiago station, was at danger.

The S-bend where the train derailed was intended only as a temporary link between the high-speed line and the conventional network and would have been eliminated by the extension of the high-speed line north towards A Coruña, although these plans have now been deferred.

A second driver was onboard the train, seated in coach 7. In Spain trains normally operate with only one driver in the cab except in the event of an Asfa failure."

The answer to Q2 would require a judge led, independent inquiry. Let's hope Spain can arrange that, in all the political and financial morass she finds herself in. I share your concern.

Best regards Q1-10

Perry said...


The article is still up as at this time.

Anonymous said...

the driver said he thought he was on another part of the journey.

so, I have a question for all the train wizzes out there :)

how do these trains keep track/tell the driver where they are? Do they have a GPS like screen that advances with the track?

thanks for your input! I find it very interesting...

Colin Davies said...

Thanks for all this gentlemen. I think I saw the article a few days ago.

Can't recall offhand the max jail sentence Garzon faces but it's perhaps not as long as some of victims' relations will be expecting/demanding.

I think there's little chance we'll get a quick answer to Q2. It's quite possible the driver will face investigations/trials of 10 years, followed by a sentence of much the same.

Colin Davies said...


Spanish papers talk of the drivers having a route map (presumably in front of them) which informs them of relevant speeds. Don't know if/how this shows any warnings of excess speed.