Some observers are speculating that yesterday’s horrific train derailment in Spain — which killed at least eighty people and injured upwards of a hundred others — may have been sabotage. The proximity of the disaster to the Santiago de Compostela festival and the association with Matamoros have fuelled speculation about (presumably Islamic) sabotage of the train.

However, the evidence available so far — which is admittedly scanty — doesn’t support the idea of sabotage. Below is a CCTV clip of the derailment, first at normal speed, then in slow-motion:

What we see in the video is that the second car in the train derailed first. The flash — which some people describe as an “explosion” — came after it tipped over, when it hit something near the track. The video is not clear enough for us to discern what flashed, but it could have been a transformer on a pole, or something similar.

Another car further back also buckled out of line a split second later.

This is consistent with the train’s hitting a curve at a high rate of speed while beginning to brake. It was, according to numerous accounts, traveling at more than twice the speed limit.

When the engineer realized what was wrong, he must have said, “[expletive deleted]!”, and hit the brakes hard. If all the cars didn’t have equally effective brakes, they would tend to accordion, which is exactly what we saw in the video. The ones with weaker brakes buckled out of line, since they were now going faster with the ones with stronger brakes in front of them.

Thus the accident could be explained by the excessive speed, and then braking. No sabotage is required.

We are left with some questions, however:

  • Why was the train going so fast?
  • Isn’t the speed on these trains automated?
  • What was the Mohammed Coefficient of the train driver?

In this case, there were actually two drivers. Both survived, and one of them (who is under police custody in the hospital) is named Francisco José Garzón Amo. So the Mo-Co here can’t be more than 50%.

Then there’s the report than someone heard an explosion. But, after watching this video over and over, I’d say that there must have been a lot of events in those first five seconds that sounded like explosions.

The only possible point of sabotage would seem to have been a disabling of the train’s automatic speed control. However, the train driver is said to have boasted on Facebook about how fast he likes to drive his train. Could he have overridden the automated controls in order to travel at the speed he preferred?

Below are relevant excerpts from a Reuters report:

Santiago de Compostela, Spain, July 25 (Reuters) — Police took the driver of a Spanish train into custody in hospital on Thursday after at least 80 people died when it derailed and caught fire in a dramatic accident which an official source said was caused by excessive speed.

The eight-carriage high velocity train came off the tracks just outside the pilgrimage centre of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain on Wednesday night. It was one of Europe’s worst rail disasters.

The source had knowledge of the official investigation into a crash which brought misery to Santiago on Thursday, the day when it should have celebrated one of Europe’s biggest Christian festivals. Authorities cancelled festivities as the city went into mourning.

The Galicia region supreme court said in a statement that the judge investigating the accident had ordered police to put the driver in custody and take a statement from him. He was under formal investigation, the court said.

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

One local official described the aftermath of the crash as like a scene from hell, with bodies strewn next to the tracks.

The impact was so huge one carriage flew several metres into the air and landed on the other side of the high concrete barrier.

Some 94 people were injured, of whom 35 were in a serious condition, including four children, the deputy head of the regional government said.

“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 had two drivers, the Galicia government said, but it was not immediately clear which one was in hospital and under investigation.

Newspaper accounts cited witnesses as saying one driver, Francisco Jose Garzon, who had helped rescue victims, shouted into a phone: “I’ve derailed! What do I do?”.

The 52-year-old had been a train driver for 30 years, a Renfe spokeswoman said. Many newspapers published excerpts from his Facebook account where he was reported to have boasted of driving trains at high speed. The page was taken offline on Thursday and the reports could not be verified.

Train Hit Bend at Speed

El Pais newspaper said one of the drivers told the railway station by radio after being trapped in his cabin that the train entered the bend at 190 kilometres per hour (120 mph). An official source said the speed limit on that stretch of twin track, laid in 2011, was 80 kph.

“We’re only human! We’re only human!” the driver told the station, the newspaper said, citing sources close to the investigation. “I hope there are no dead, because this will fall on my conscience.”

Investigators were trying to urgently establish why the train was going so fast and why security devices to keep speed within permitted limits had not worked. [emphasis added]

The train, operated by state-owned company Renfe, was built by Bombardier and Talgo and was around five years old. It had almost the maximum number of passengers.

Spain’s rail safety record is better than the European average, ranking 18th out of 27 countries in terms of railway deaths per kilometres travelled, the European Railway Agency said. There were 218 train accidents in Spain between 2008-2011, well below the European Union average of 426 for the same period, the agency said.

Eve of Festival

Firefighters called off a strike to help with the disaster, while hospital staff, many operating on reduced salaries because of spending cuts in recession-hit Spain, worked overtime to tend the injured.

The disaster happened at 8.41 p.m. (1841 GMT) on the eve of a festival dedicated to St. James, one of Jesus’s 12 disciples, whose remains are said to rest in the city’s centuries-old cathedral.


Passenger Ricardo Montesco told Cadena Ser radio station the train approached the curve at high speed, twisted and the carriages piled up one on top of the other.

Passengers Squashed

“A lot of people were squashed on the bottom. We tried to squeeze out of the bottom of the wagons to get out and we realised the train was burning. … I was in the second carriage and there was fire. … I saw corpses,” he said.

Both Renfe and state-owned Adif, which is in charge of the tracks, had opened an investigation into the cause of the derailment, Renfe said.

Hat tip: Vlad Tepes.

20 thoughts on “Sabotage?

  1. Pingback: Links and news for July 25 2013 – 4 | Vlad Tepes

  2. I sure do want you to be right on this one, Baron. May it just be the fault of one man’s pride or carelessness. That is so much better than the alternative we’ve come to expect.

    I had just finished reading the Lectionary notes for this day’s feast when the news came in and had been reflecting on the stories about St. James.

    July 25th is the feast day of Santiago Apostol, Santiago de Compostela ia a very big deal. The wiki goes into good detail about the history of the place:

    My heart goes out to all those pilgrims. And it is touching to read that the firemen called off their strike to assist in this disaster.

  3. Second car derailing first – not sure I ever came across that, while playing with a scalectrix set… From what I recall, it was always the locomotive… if the locomotive made it through the bend, I would speed the train up to try and beat the shortest lap time, and I’m not sure the following carriages ever derailed as a result of the higher speed.

    More importantly, however – do we know how fast the train was going through the bend? The embedded video does not strike me as being 180 mph. Perhaps my eyes are not sensitive enough, but it seems the train went past around 1 pylon every second. How far from each other are the pylons? Google Maps suggests around 1.5 pylons, between the bridge and the right-angle curve in the street on the right of the bridge – a distance of around 70m, which would give around 1 pylon every 40m. 40 metres per second is 144 km/h. Big, but not nearly the same as 180 mph…

    And if it was a sabotage, would Spain be rushing to prove this was the case? Lately, since Lee Rigby’s death, we’ve seen a murder of 1 British soldier in Barnsley, and another near-murder… with no description of the assailants, in spite of witnesses present (hint, hint) – in those cases, there were just brief mentions far down the pecking order on Britain’s news websites. For the French rail crashes, since the circumstances were described as “suspicious”, discussion of the subject in the media seems to have largely died down… perhaps this is a new strategy of the powers-that-be? To silence or dampen down discussion of any event that may be Jihad-related?? And if it really was sabotage, what then would the conclusion be for Spain’s travellers? That travel by train leaves one vulnerable to an attack that’s very difficult to stop? This, after Spain investing billions of Euros to build one of the most extensive high-speed rail networks in the world… surely better to blame it all on the driver, and promise better training to ensure that such an incident is never repeated?

    • G.I. —

      The news reports said 180 km/h, not 180 mph. That puts it in the same ball park as your estimate.

      I won’t argue with you about the French incident — I think you’re right. But sometimes accidents do happen, and this may be one of them. It seems more like the Italian cruise ship accident from a couple of years ago — a foolish pilot hot-dogging it for his girlfriend ran his ship onto the rocks. That one was not jihad, and this one looks similar.

      • Baron,

        Looks like you’re not into the conspiracy theories on this one – and I don’t necessarily disagree… just wondering if all this makes physical sense. Is someone with a scalectrix train set (with an option of braking, preferably) able to replicate this type of crash? As to the driver – yes, there do seem similarities with the Costa Concordia captain – however, is there that much evidence available at the moment? One newspaper report from El Pais citing an “anonymous source”, plus a Facebook post from a year ago showing a speedometer does not seem an awful lot to go on. (after the Smolensk disaster involving the Polish president’s plane, the very first news reports said that “3 people were seriously injured”… however for some reason, the wider media was less keen to republish such information)

        That said, there may be more information on this case than I’m aware of.

        As to the speed – yes, 140 or 180 km/h does seem a lot for a bend with a radius of around 500m. For high-speed lines, I’ve seen the curve radius recommended to be several kilometres.

    • “Lately, since Lee Rigby’s death, we’ve seen a murder of 1 British soldier in Barnsley, and another near-murder…”

      Apologies that this post is off-topic, but would it be possible to give a source for the ‘murder of 1 British soldier in Barnsley’?

      I have searched, but have only been able to find reports of the other incident, the attack on a corporal on 28 June.

      With regard to the latter, the report by the Barnsley Chronicle now has an addendum – “The mother of the soldier has asked it be made clear the attackers were white British men.”

  4. Warning: Cool objectivity as in the above article by the Baron is so far from me that I will probably not reach it during my life-time.

    An “in-depth enquiry” will no doubt be conducted at a speed directly opposite to that allegedly reached by the train. (I read *somewhere* that this train could safely travel at 250 k/m) Will this “enquiry” be held under the auspices of authorities who had no hesitation to send a victim of Islam back into the ‘loving-you-to-death’ arms of that regime? In which case I will, speculatively of course, announce their findings right now: “Human error, excessive speed, no evidence of any sabotage found”.

    Colour me islamo-sceptic or even islamophobe, but I will not believe the results of the “official findings” and will follow closely what happens to the “guilty” driver(s), after the show of his/their repentance and punishment will go into recession.

    • Rita —

      I don’t disagree with anything you say. This may yet turn out to be sabotage, and I don’t trust any official enquiries, either.

      But there’s no evidence of sabotage in that video, at least not to my amateur eye. I’ll yield to the experts if they show up, needless to say.

  5. The flash and “explosion” is the catenaries above the track shorting out when the train derailed. The 15-30 kV the trains run on makes quite a bang when a short is present.

    • Adam —

      Thank you. That’s the sort of useful, knowledgeable information I hoped our readers might come up with.

  6. “And if it was a sabotage, would Spain be rushing to prove this was the case?”

    no, they certainly wouldn’t. In fact the spanish minister of interiors Jorge Fernandez Diaz, rushed to say it was NOT terror ind the middle of the night, hours before the carriages was ever examined.

  7. It doesn’t seem to clever entering a curve with 180 km/h (112 mph). Was the conductor muslim? If so, it should be considered that the incident could be a terror attack.

  8. The French one from some details I have seen appears to have been sabotage by adherents of the religion of bits and pieces, the Spanish one looks like a train driver being an utter fool…

    This will help get some more details on the French one, now that they are admitting a crime and I bet they are so happy to have the Spanish crash to hide the news behind.

  9. Maybe I myself can add some useful, knowledgeable information? As far as we know, the train was supposed to run at 80 km/h in this curve, which is on the final stretch of the line approaching Santiago central station, while in fact it seems it did 190. (Or put in mph, 50 and 120.)

    Instead of speculating about the mechanics of derailing trains (while you’re at it, don’t forget to consider the specific construction principle of spanish Talgo trains…), the questions would have to be:

    How is it possible that this line – which was reopened in 2011 after thorough refurbishment as part of the future Madrid – Galicia high-speed line (european interoperability!) – is not equipped with ETCS (see Wiki)? This system would have prevented any driver-caused errors – like going faster than he was supposed to do.

    PS The ongoing surveillance debate: Most of what I read is theoretical rant made by professional opinionators. If you wish to know the real part of it as practised by the ‘services’, then make sure to read/watch this experience-based report at

    • The curve where the accident took place is the point where the new HS line joins the existing old railway from Madrid which snakes itself for the final 3 to 4 km thru the city towards the station. Back in the days when this old line was built these tight 300 mtr. radius curves were perfectly safe for steam train operation. Hence the 80 km/hr speedlimit at this point today.
      As the train exited the final HS tunnel (2 km south-east of the station, as the crow flies) east of Autostrada Do Atlantico, it should have had a speed of 80 km/hr. But it did not.
      This junction is the point where the High Speed line ceases to be a High Speed line and becomes a ‘Normal Speed’ line.

      Another issue may be that the old railways in Spain were built according to Iberian gauge, 1,668 mm (5 ft 5 2⁄3 in).
      The new HS line was built according to the international standard gauge of 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in).
      For through-operation, a train must be equipped with special trucks holding variable gauge wheelsets containing a variable gauge axle (VGA). The gauge is altered by driving the train through a gauge changer . As the train passes through the gauge changer, the wheels are unlocked, moved closer together, or further apart, and are then re-locked.
      Perhaps while racing through the gauge changer at high speed a wheel on the second car was damaged causing the fatal derailment halfway the curve.

  10. Travel time from Ourense to Santiago de Compostela for the train type in question was 40 minutes on the timetable. (From departure to arrival. If I found the correct one.)
    The distance between towns is approximately 80 km by rail and track seems well capable to handle high speed trains at a speed around 200 km/h. (Estimated from google maps.)

    My guess (in no particular order) is
    a) Human error
    b) Malfunction of / design flaw in signaling/traffic control/locomotive/operating instructions
    c) Deliberate damage
    d) Combination of a) and b)

    If I was a gambler I would bet on D.

    • The sharp curve at the scene of the accident is appr. 100 degrees and has a radius of appr. 300 mtr.
      It’s nowhere near capable of speeds up to 200 km/hr.
      The max. allowable speed at this point is 80 km/hr.
      In the video it is clear the train exceeds this speed by a very wide margin.
      The speed could very wel have been double the 80 km/hr or even more.
      The question here is why was the train speeding?

      • I can answer Your question. 😉

        The train was speeding at the curve because it did not slow down to the allowed limit from the assumed normal travel speed which is around 200 km/h.

  11. Indications of a combination of human error, insufficient operating instructions and some sort of technical malfunction.

    Insufficient operating instructions:
    – need to consult on operating the route while in traffic
    Technical malfunction:
    – if there was some sort of control system on the train why it did not slow the speed automatically
    Human error:
    – depending on the amount of drivers (1 or 2) on the train the primary/only drivers talking on the phone possibly caused to miss one or more train traffic control signals

    My estimation is that the burden of culpability will be poured on the driver because The System can not be faulty.
    Or can it?

Comments are closed.