Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Santiago train crash black boxes: driver was on the phone when the accident happened

Black (yellow) box removed
from crash site
SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA It's a week today since the tragic train crash that so far killed 79 people. Sixty-six victims are still in hospital, of whom 15 are in a critical state, one of whom is a child. The train's black boxes have been recovered and are being studied, but it has emerged that they reveal that the driver was on the phone to RENFE, who placed the call, when the accident happened. Just prior to this, the train's speed had been 192 k/h, but had been reduced to 153 k/h at the point of impact. Apparently, he received the phone call from the RENFE centre telling him the way to Ferrol, the train's ultimate destination. The sound of paper can be heard on the recording of>>>
the conversation, indicating that the driver may well have been looking at a map or other documentation. These are the preliminary conclusions of an analysis of the last few minutes before the crash. Accusations are flying against the company - instead of at the driver - whose own Good Practices Guide advises against using the phone at critical points, which the entrance to Santiago certainly is.

Meanwhile, Julio González Pomar, President of RENFE, the operating company, and Gonzalo Ferre Montó, of ADIF, the railway infrastructure company, have been summoned to appear before a congressional committee as soon as the holidays are over, perhaps sooner.

Ferre Montó has admitted that the accident could have been avoided if the train had been installed with an ERTMS, European Rail Traffic Management System, which would have slowed the train down automatically.

Can crash impact AVE contracts abroad?
The train involved at the Santiago tragedy was an Alvia, also a high-speed train with a maximum speed of 250 km/h, and not an AVE. Both use the same tracks but the difference, aside from speed, is that the Alvia can switch between the Iberian and the standard gauges.

The Spanish media are full of fears about multi-million euro contracts for the AVE in other countries, as until now the Spanish system has had very good reception and press, particularly regarding safety.

Among the most important of these contracts -in which the small print often contains such clauses as a lack of fatal accidents in the previous five years- is in Brazil, for a high-speed system between Río de Janeiro,São Paulo and Campinhas and valued at €13 billion. It would be the first one in Latin America, where the door for such contracts is being opened, at least up to now.

Another one, in Saudi Arabia, connecting Mecca with Ryadh, has been given the go-ahed.

For its part, Portugal announced on Saturday that it was putting its AVE connection with Spain on hold, though this is viewed more as an economic measure.

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