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Espagne Tough task awaits investigators in wake of Spanish train disaster


Xinhuanet | | Commenter |Imprimer

Once established that the primary cause of the Santiago de Compostela train disaster which has claimed 80 lives and left around 100 injured in north-west Spain was an excess of velocity, focus is turning as how such a train could go into a corner with a speed limit of 80 km/h at a speed of around 190 km/h.

A video of the accident shown on Spanish TV and posted on virtually every news website in the country shows in graphic detail how the carriages are hurled off the tracks as a result of the excessive speed, with the second wagon appearing to jump the tracks while those behind it are twisted into tortured shapes by the stress placed upon them.

The driver of the engine is the first suspect: he reportedly admitted almost directly after the accident of traveling at 190km/h. A veteran of over 30 years' service, his Facebook page has shown that he had previously made jokes about breaking the speed limit, and although that cannot be taken as proof that he habitually acted in such a way, it is worrying.

The driver gave negative in a test for alcohol and is currently under police supervision in his hospital bed after being imputed to give evidence to the judge behind one of the two investigations into the tragedy. The judge is in possession of the black box which contains recordings of all of the cabin information and will be able to interrogate him on the basis of the contents of that fateful device.

But even if the driver was speeding, the question as to why no automatic system kicked in to automatically slow the train down.

The engine in question, an Alvia s-730, was a new model with a top speed of 250 km/h and was operating on track which had recently been laid in order to accommodate the 300km/h AVE high speed train.

However, the area where the accident happened is transition zone between the high-speed line and a conventional line. The high-speed line is protected with the ERMTS system, which is a European safety system designed for trains able to travel at speeds of 300km/h, to the ASFA -200 system, more generally used on lines with a top speed of 200 km/h.

Both systems are assured to be equally safe and are intended to transmit an action protocol to the cabin in function of the data collected by sensors and antenna installed along the track. Should the driver ignore the signals they are programmed to automatically brake the train and slow it down, something that failed to happen in Wednesday's disaster.

Investigators now have the task of determining why on a piece of track which has being described as being in "perfect conditions," something apparently went badly wrong, for while it may well be that the driver was pushing the train beyond the limit in order to make up a slight delay on arrival time the fact is that the automatic system should still have prevented the tragedy.

The riddle is waiting to be tackled.

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