Video: High-speed train derails in Spain, killing 78

posted at 10:41 am on July 25, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

A derailment of a high-speed train in northern Spain killed at least 78 people earlier today and injured many more.  Police have the driver of the train detained while they continue to rescue people and investigate the crash, and they have surveillance video of the derailment as a big boost to their probe (via The Week):

Police put the driver of a Spanish train under investigation on Thursday after at least 78 people died when it hit a sharp bend at speed, derailed and caught fire near the pilgrimage center of Santiago de Compostela, in one of Europe’s worst rail disasters.

Dramatic video footage from a security camera outside the northwestern city showed the train, with 247 people on board, careering into a wall at the side of the track as carriages jack-knifed and the engine overturned.

One local official described the aftermath of the crash, on the eve of one of Europe’s biggest Christian festivals in the ancient city, as like a scene from hell, with bodies strewn next to the tracks.

“We heard a massive noise and we went down the tracks. I helped get a few injured and bodies out of the train. I went into one of the cars but I’d rather not tell you what I saw there,” Ricardo Martinez, a 47-year old baker from Santiago de Compostela, told Reuters.

The train driver was under formal police investigation, a spokeswoman for Galicia’s Supreme Court told Reuters, without naming him. The train had two drivers and one was in hospital, the Galicia government said.

Police want to know why the driver had the train going 190 kph (120 MPH) coming into the curve when the speed limit for that part of the track was half of that speed.  The train itself is supposed to force the driver to slow down in those zones, but for some reason the system appears to have failed.  The video doesn’t show any other track-related reason for the derailment, although there could certainly have been something too small to see, or perhaps other equipment failures on the train itself.

At least five Americans were injured in the derailment.  So far, though, no Americans are known to be among the dead.

CNN updated the story an hour ago or so:

The “puff of smoke” the reporter cites doesn’t seem so inexplicable to me. In looking at the surveillance video, the train begins to derail before that happens, and the “puff” seems to be the kind of eruption of dirt and dust one would expect when the cars landed next to the track.  The speed itself would explain the accident.


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Hopefully the driver was not wienering.

Schadenfreude on July 25, 2013 at 10:45 AM

Anything is possible (wait 48 hours) but just to weigh in with .02 it seems this is a speed related accident. The question then becomes, why the high speed?

WitchDoctor on July 25, 2013 at 10:45 AM

You can tell in the video where the train hops the rails. Looks like it’s speed-related. My thoughts and prayers to all the injured and the friends and family of the deceased.

Nethicus on July 25, 2013 at 10:46 AM

Anything is possible (wait 48 hours) but just to weigh in with .02 it seems this is a speed related accident. The question then becomes, why the high speed?

WitchDoctor on July 25, 2013 at 10:45 AM

He was late for his mandatory union break. He didn’t want to get written up.

NotCoach on July 25, 2013 at 10:49 AM

Does this put the ridiculously over-budget California high speed train in a new light?

Paul-Cincy on July 25, 2013 at 10:54 AM

Hey! Let’s spend trillions of taxpayer dollars crisscrossing the country with these things!

/Democrats

Good Lt on July 25, 2013 at 10:54 AM

What they needed was a monorail.

Shelbyville has one.

Excess speed…physics…strain…inertia…accident.

coldwarrior on July 25, 2013 at 10:55 AM

At least five Americans were injured in the derailment. So far, though, no Americans are known to be among the dead.

I’ve never understood why the presence (or not) of Americans is a relevant part of the story.

Happy Nomad on July 25, 2013 at 10:56 AM

Tragic. And it could have been prevented.

(Too soon for the obligatory 0bamacare reference?)

UltimateBob on July 25, 2013 at 10:58 AM

I’ve never understood why the presence (or not) of Americans is a relevant part of the story.

Happy Nomad on July 25, 2013 at 10:56 AM

Really? You’ve never understood why Americans with loved ones traveling in Spain wouldn’t wonder if there was a chance they could be among the injured? My sister and her friend are in France right now and are planning to be in Spain by Saturday afternoon. Were they in Spain right now, my first thought would have been ‘Could they have been on that train?’

cynccook on July 25, 2013 at 11:00 AM

I’ve never understood why the presence (or not) of Americans is a relevant part of the story.

Happy Nomad on July 25, 2013 at 10:56 AM

The same reason your local TV news gleefully reports the presence of local casualties in an out-of-market disaster.

Steve Eggleston on July 25, 2013 at 11:00 AM

(Too soon for the obligatory 0bamacare reference?)

UltimateBob on July 25, 2013 at 10:58 AM

Yes, too soon.

cynccook on July 25, 2013 at 11:00 AM

Shouldn’t there be sensors to automatically slow down a train in certain areas like this curve if it detects its moving excessively fast?

portlandon on July 25, 2013 at 11:01 AM

It’s a good thing this didn’t happen in one of the many abandoned parts of Spain (those of you who watched “Top Gear” on Monday know what I’m talking about).

Steve Eggleston on July 25, 2013 at 11:02 AM

Does this put the ridiculously over-budget California high speed train in a new light?

Paul-Cincy on July 25, 2013 at 10:54 AM

Actually the same light. Gov Moonbeam simply keeps putting out the light when such concerns arise.

Besides, from what I understand, due to environmental concerns, the Moonbeam Express will never really be allowed to go anywhere near such speeds.

Its a high speed train in name only for now, and probably will be for the next 20 years or so.

hawkeye54 on July 25, 2013 at 11:02 AM

KTVU reporting Engineer’s Name: Tren de Alta Velocidad

hillsoftx on July 25, 2013 at 11:03 AM

Shouldn’t there be sensors to automatically slow down a train in certain areas like this curve if it detects its moving excessively fast?

portlandon on July 25, 2013 at 11:01 AM

One would think so….and of course, if they exist, they’d never malfunction. We can always rely on technology to protect us.

hawkeye54 on July 25, 2013 at 11:04 AM

Not to make light of the situation, but that train was going FASTER than the Asiana Fl214 777 was at landing.

Jabberwock on July 25, 2013 at 11:07 AM

Shouldn’t there be sensors to automatically slow down a train in certain areas like this curve if it detects its moving excessively fast?

portlandon on July 25, 2013 at 11:01 AM

One would think so….and of course, if they exist, they’d never malfunction. We can always rely on technology to protect us.

hawkeye54 on July 25, 2013 at 11:04 AM

Ed touched upon it in the article—looks like the technology failed.

hillsoftx on July 25, 2013 at 11:09 AM

KTVU reporting Engineer’s Name: Tren de Alta Velocidad

hillsoftx on July 25, 2013 at 11:03 AM

They must have updated it, because earlier they reported his name was Tarde para el Receso.

NotCoach on July 25, 2013 at 11:09 AM

Vehicle with high center of gravity.

Enters curve going too fast.

Inside wheels leave the ground.

Boom.

Pretty clear-cut, from my POV (trained in highway accident investigation). I’d feel safe in calling it “pilot error”, with (possible) track or running-gear condition a contributing factor.

The main factor being going into a curve rated at 100 KPH (60 MPH) at over 200 KPH (120MPH).

There’s a reason for those yellow speed limit sign on curves. Of course, they only work if the driver pays attention to them and acts accordingly.

The fact that an automatic speed limiter failed is no excuse. If automatic systems always worked, you wouldn’t need an engineer to run the loco.

I understand that there have been “issues” with the safety of the Spanish railway system. From this, it looks like their main issue is personnel.

And yes, this makes the idea of high-speed “light rail” systems here in the U.S. even less appealing. As the old saying goes,

The problem with making equipment idiot-proof is that idiots are so ingenious.

clear ether

eon

eon on July 25, 2013 at 11:09 AM

The train itself is supposed to force the driver to slow down in those zones, but for some reason the system appears to have failed.

European software. There’s all those ISO thingees the Europeans put such faith in, but, in the end, all they are are barriers to competition — to erect a barrier to keep smaller companies out of the businesses which are ISO certified — and for which ISO certification is a requirement for gaining government contracts. They really do not increase the quality of what is produced at all — although that is their supposed intent.

unclesmrgol on July 25, 2013 at 11:12 AM

So then, we know this is not “A man made disaster.” ?

Bmore on July 25, 2013 at 11:13 AM

According to the libs, this is just to many people dying, so it must be regulated, outlawed, taken over by the government, or replaced by horses. NEXT!!

Zexerz on July 25, 2013 at 11:15 AM

The problem with making equipment idiot-proof is that idiots are so ingenious.

eon on July 25, 2013 at 11:09 AM

Something I’ve been dealing with my entire career as a controls engineer. I have figured out a long time ago that training is also required, but have a hard time conveying that to my bosses sometimes. They always want the perfect system that can’t be manipulated or bypassed. But without operator responsibility idiots always find a way to screw things up.

NotCoach on July 25, 2013 at 11:16 AM

One would think so….and of course, if they exist, they’d never malfunction. We can always rely on technology to protect us.

hawkeye54 on July 25, 2013 at 11:04 AM

Indeed…as every pilot knows “fly the (damned) plane” is the only mantra, gadgets working, or not.

Same goes for trains and other vehicles. Like Asiana, the talk about the equipment will go on…because God forbid the driver could have been e-mailing or such…and it’s so un-PC to blame anyone any more, of anything.

Schadenfreude on July 25, 2013 at 11:17 AM

unclesmrgol on July 25, 2013 at 11:12 AM

I don’t think the system failed though. I think it was bypassed. I am only speculating, but more often than not that is usually the case. Don’t be surprised if we find out the actions this engineer took were not unusual, just that the inevitable finally happened.

NotCoach on July 25, 2013 at 11:18 AM

So then, we know this is not “A man made disaster.” ?

Bmore on July 25, 2013 at 11:13 AM

NO, a man could have changed the tracks, or the driver could have been wienering, or, or, or…hopefully not drinking.

Schadenfreude on July 25, 2013 at 11:18 AM

Really? You’ve never understood why Americans with loved ones traveling in Spain wouldn’t wonder if there was a chance they could be among the injured? My sister and her friend are in France right now and are planning to be in Spain by Saturday afternoon. Were they in Spain right now, my first thought would have been ‘Could they have been on that train?’

cynccook on July 25, 2013 at 11:00 AM

You sister and her friend may not be as safe as you think.

Visitors to one of France’s most beautiful tourist areas were today warned to be on their guard after a pack of feral cats launched an attack on a young woman.

About six cats pounced on the unnamed dog owner as she walked her poodle in the city of Belfort, in the popular Franche-Comte region, on the Swiss border, dragging her to the ground and mauling her.
She was bitten repeatedly and left with a torn artery which could have proved fatal, while the dog was also badly hurt.

And, while I understand the “local tie” aspect of mentioning the number of Americans, it still isn’t a relevant part of the report.

Happy Nomad on July 25, 2013 at 11:23 AM

Does this put the ridiculously over-budget California high speed train in a new light?

Paul-Cincy on July 25, 2013 at 10:54 AM

No, Paul, we are used to train wrecks — like our Governor, State Assembly, and Senators Feinstein and Boxer — here in SoCal.

(But go Reds, and Go Bengals!)

VastRightWingConspirator on July 25, 2013 at 11:23 AM

Was anyone heard yelling “tallyho snackbar” just before the inexplicable behavior by the “drivers” (shouldn’t that be “engineers”)?

Just wondering. Spanish rail has not been unscathed in the past.

bofh on July 25, 2013 at 11:24 AM

Ding Bang Ow?

Ward Cleaver on July 25, 2013 at 11:27 AM

I don’t think the system failed though. I think it was bypassed. I am only speculating, but more often than not that is usually the case. Don’t be surprised if we find out the actions this engineer took were not unusual, just that the inevitable finally happened.

NotCoach on July 25, 2013 at 11:18 AM

It does seem improbable to me that the speed limiter would simply fail. Of course, we don’t know what the engineer was doing at the time of the derailment. Was he desperately trying to slow the train down or was he talking to the Mrs. on his cell phone? Don’t trains have black boxes?

Happy Nomad on July 25, 2013 at 11:29 AM

bofh on July 25, 2013 at 11:24 AM

Yes, “engineers” in the train world…for my part I meant to talk about other vehicles too, but you’re right, if it pleases you :)

Schadenfreude on July 25, 2013 at 11:34 AM

but for some reason the system appears to have failed.

Oh my. Terrible video. Prayers for all.

The train was going too fast. The biggest crash in CA was caused by a driver who just wasn’t paying attention, as he was texting all the time.

Another good reason why we should not build high speed rail here.

PattyJ on July 25, 2013 at 11:35 AM

Happy Nomad on July 25, 2013 at 11:29 AM

After therapy, and after all the PC gang (see Asiana) are done, he might tell you.

Schadenfreude on July 25, 2013 at 11:36 AM

I love how some of you rail against high-speed.

That isn’t the problem here…not that I’m for J. Brown’s or others’ waste of dough.

Europe has had a very successful high-speed net, and so has Asia. It is inevitable for the future, where it makes sense. It makes zero sense in the short strip J. Brow will wast billions on…all for nothing…except for H. Reid’s boondogles.

Schadenfreude on July 25, 2013 at 11:39 AM

I’m not sure it was only the speed, it looks to me like the 2nd car back is out of alignment right from the start of the video and starts to go well before the engine even enters the curve.

JeremiahJohnson on July 25, 2013 at 11:39 AM

The train was definitely going too fast for that curve. Most railroad curves are banked, so that gravity partially pulls the train into the curve. Centrifugal acceleration, tending to tip the train outward, is proportional to the square of the speed. If the centrifugal acceleration is stronger than the component of gravity pulling the train inward, the train tips over–it’s simple physics.

Although this was obviously due to human error, this should be a lesson to proponents of high-speed rail in the States. High-speed rail needs special tracks, with only long, gentle banked curves, which can be done in flat, rural areas, but become extremely expensive in hilly or congested areas (such as San Francisco or Los Angeles).

I have ridden the high-speed TGV between Paris and Lyon, France many times. Over about a 220-mile stretch, the train travels at 300 km/hr (180 mph), but it slows down to 90 km/hr (about 56 mph) within 20 miles north of Lyon (hilly terrain) and 40 miles south of Paris, where it passes through many suburban commuter rail stations. At 180 mph, the wind generated by the passing train would be equivalent to a Cat-5 hurricane, which could literally blow away anyone standing on the platform! So the 280-mile trip from Paris to Lyon takes two hours, for an average speed of 140 mph.

For purposes of safety, high-speed trains MUST slow down in hilly or congested areas (such as the curve near Santiago de Compostela). But this reduces the time saved as compared to other means of transportation, such as cars or planes. People studying the feasibility of high-speed rail need to take this into account: the hillier or more congested the terrain, the more expensive the track, and less time is saved by taking the train, meaning that fewer people will ride it.

High-speed rail CAN save time and money in some cases–for two large cities separated by 200 to 400 miles of flat, open terrain. But it’s not a panacea, and is not feasible everywhere–why drill rail tunnels through mountains, when it’s cheaper and faster to fly over them?

Steve Z on July 25, 2013 at 11:40 AM

European software. There’s all those ISO thingees the Europeans put such faith in, but, in the end, all they are are barriers to competition — to erect a barrier to keep smaller companies out of the businesses which are ISO certified — and for which ISO certification is a requirement for gaining government contracts. They really do not increase the quality of what is produced at all — although that is their supposed intent.

unclesmrgol on July 25, 2013 at 11:12 AM

As a manufacturer I second this comment.

Free Indeed on July 25, 2013 at 11:41 AM

Obviously another consequence of the Republican sequester!

Child In Time on July 25, 2013 at 11:51 AM

It appears the derailment began before the explosion.

paul1149 on July 25, 2013 at 11:54 AM

It appears the derailment began before the explosion.

paul1149 on July 25, 2013 at 11:54 AM

There was no explosion. There was a train colliding with a concrete wall, and plowing earth.

NotCoach on July 25, 2013 at 11:58 AM

It appears the derailment began before the explosion.

paul1149 on July 25, 2013 at 11:54 AM

The flashes in the film are from electrical arcing when the derailed passenger cars took down power lines.

NotCoach on July 25, 2013 at 12:00 PM

Europe has had a very successful high-speed net, and so has Asia. It is inevitable for the future, where it makes sense. It makes zero sense in the short strip J. Brown will waste billions on…all for nothing…except for H. Reid’s boondogles.

Schadenfreude on July 25, 2013 at 11:39 AM

I suppose it makes sense when it serves short corridors connecting dense population hubs and with close proximity to where most riders would need to, or want to go, and provides a less expensive and better alternative to other means of transportation.

All of California, not so much.

Oh, and as to those billions being “wasted”. Those few pocketing tidy sums for their participation in the boondoggle would disagree with that sentiment.

hawkeye54 on July 25, 2013 at 12:00 PM

At least five Americans were injured in the derailment. So far, though, no Americans are known to be among the dead.
I’ve never understood why the presence (or not) of Americans is a relevant part of the story.
Happy Nomad on July 25, 2013 at 10:56 AM

These events are always reported this way citing number of deaths and injuries of those from country where
accident is being described. It’s based on the notion of nation-states and citizenship.

Also just human nature.

And yours is just a silly statement.

Sherman1864 on July 25, 2013 at 12:09 PM

Does this put the ridiculously over-budget California high speed train in a new light?

Paul-Cincy on July 25, 2013 at 10:54 AM

Of course not!!

That could never happen on an American rail line…

built by highly skilled union craftsmen and operated by highly trained union engineers and crew.

Solaratov on July 25, 2013 at 12:12 PM

And yours is just a silly statement.

Sherman1864 on July 25, 2013 at 12:09 PM

Really? All the stories I’ve seen mention five injured Americans and one injured Briton. Why is it silly to single out these nationalities and not, say, the French? Explain that one!

Happy Nomad on July 25, 2013 at 12:32 PM

Really? All the stories I’ve seen mention five injured Americans and one injured Briton. Why is it silly to single out these nationalities and not, say, the French? Explain that one!

Happy Nomad on July 25, 2013 at 12:32 PM

Because we aren’t French. That should be self explanatory. It is a very old journalistic method to try and connect people to a story by highlighting actual connections. We are all Americans, and 5 of us were on that train.

NotCoach on July 25, 2013 at 12:34 PM

bofh on July 25, 2013 at 11:24 AM

In the EU, and probably most of the world, train “operators” are known as “drivers”.
Only, it seems, in America did the operator acquire the title of “engineer” since he was operating a steam-engine. But, that being true, what do you call the mechanical-engineer who designed the engine?
American English can be so confusing.

Another Drew on July 25, 2013 at 12:41 PM

Solaratov on July 25, 2013 at 12:12 PM

Does that apply to Canadian railways also?

Another Drew on July 25, 2013 at 12:42 PM

The same reason your local TV news gleefully reports the presence of local casualties in an out-of-market disaster.

Steve Eggleston on July 25, 2013 at 11:00 AM

If my local ABC 7 news tonight doesn’t have a segment called “The Spanish Rail Disaster: The Chicago Connection!” I will be extremely disappointed.

/sarc

JimLennon on July 25, 2013 at 1:03 PM

In the EU, and probably most of the world, train “operators” are known as “drivers”.
Only, it seems, in America did the operator acquire the title of “engineer” since he was operating a steam-engine. But, that being true, what do you call the mechanical-engineer who designed the engine?
American English can be so confusing.

Another Drew on July 25, 2013 at 12:41 PM

The term is originally European, and military in origin.

Back in pre-gunpowder days, siege artillery consisted of catapults aka “onagers”, ballista (originally torsion-powered like the onagers, later oversized crossbows), and trebuchets (really big catapults powered by really big counterweights).

These were known collectively as “siege engines“. And their operators were called “enginers” (like “engineer”, but with a short ‘e’ at the end).

The term later was applied to the men who built siege works, bridges, and so on, hence “combat engineers”. When steam engines came along, their operators were accordingly called “engineers” as well.

Since steam locomotives were the first major type of practical railroad, the drivers were dubbed “engineers” because they operated a steam engine. The name stuck.

Simple, really, once you know the history.

cheers

eon

eon on July 25, 2013 at 1:08 PM

If my local ABC 7 news tonight doesn’t have a segment called “The Spanish Rail Disaster: The Chicago Connection!” I will be extremely disappointed.

/sarc

JimLennon on July 25, 2013 at 1:03 PM

Yeah, they’ll probably find some witness “who has relatives in the Chicagoland area” make some vague statement about how bad the wreck is.

Happy Nomad on July 25, 2013 at 1:10 PM

Simple, really, once you know the history.

cheers

eon

eon on July 25, 2013 at 1:08 PM

So cool. Thank you for the explanation.

RushBaby on July 25, 2013 at 2:01 PM

High-speed rail FTW! This is the future Joe Biden and Jerry Brown have in mind for America.

(Also a nice visual metaphor for what is happening to our country under Obama).

Hayabusa on July 25, 2013 at 3:16 PM

These events are always reported this way citing number of deaths and injuries of those from country where
accident is being described. It’s based on the notion of nation-states and citizenship.

Also just human nature.

And yours is just a silly statement.

Sherman1864 on July 25, 2013 at 12:09 PM

What you say is true, in my experience, but I’ve always disliked the practice too, in the US and elsewhere.

DarkCurrent on July 25, 2013 at 3:56 PM

Does that apply to Canadian railways also?

Another Drew on July 25, 2013 at 12:42 PM

Not if you use superior, never-fail American technology.

You know…like not going over thirty miles per hour because the rails are in such bad shape.

We’re Number 1 !! We’re Number 1 !!

//

Solaratov on July 25, 2013 at 4:04 PM

Engineer’s name: Carlos Danger

drunyan8315 on July 25, 2013 at 8:26 PM