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.
“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.