Sunday, 1 September 2013

A train in Spain

On the 25th July 2013 a train travelling from Madrid to Ferrol derailed near Santiago de Compostela. Out of 218 passengers, 79 died. A BBC report quotes the president of the railway firm:
The train had passed an inspection that same morning. Those trains are inspected every 7500km... Its maintenance record was perfect.

One of the train drivers, according to the same BBC report, told the control room that he took the bend at 190km/h; the bend's speed limit is 80km/h. He is also reported to have kept repeating "We're human, we're human." The train was running five minutes late.

A later BBC report explores the safety systems in place on trains; the European Train Control System (ETCS) which can prevent speeding and the more basic ASFA (Anuncio de Senales y Frenado Automatico) which warns the drivers when the speed limit is exceeded but cannot stop speeding. The track where the train derailed only had the ASFA system in use. The train driver received 3 audible warnings to reduce speed, the last warning was 250m (or 4.6 seconds) before derailment. The BBC report also quotes a Spanish journalist who says that there had been concerns about this section of track since it opened, as it required the driver to reduce the train's speed from 200km/h to 80km/h "in just a matter of seconds". According to unnamed officials, the bend does not need additional safety measures "because of the proximity of a major urban center, which requires that drivers slow down trains regardless." Writing in the Guardian, Miguel-Anxo Murado tells us that:
There were arguments for having that section of the route remade completely, but Galicia's particular land tenure regime makes expropriations an administrative nightmare. So the bend was left as it was, and speed was limited there to 80km/h

On the 27th July the train driver is discharged from hospital and taken to a police station for questioning. The Interior Minister accuses him of reckless manslaughter. The driver has 30 years experience, became a fully qualified driver in 2003 and had been driving on that route for over a year.

On the 31st July we learn that the driver was on the phone to train company staff and/or the train's ticket inspector at the time of the crash. He would normally start braking 4km before the bend (at 200km/hr he has approximately 72 seconds to decrease his speed to 80km/hr).

The Guardian provides us with additional information:
Renfe is among the firms bidding for a €13bn contract to build a high-speed rail link in Brazil. The terms of the tender reportedly exclude firms involved in the running of high-speed train systems where an accident has taken place in the preceding five years.
In the latest BBC report dealing with the crash, the Public Works Minister is quoted as saying: "Everything is under review, everything is subject to proposals for improvements". There is discussion of beacons on sections of track which require rapid braking, the use of satellite technology and a review of the physical and psychological requirements of train drivers.

The train driver has been charged with involuntary homicide due to "professional recklessness".

The aftermath of this train disaster followed the same course as that of the sinking of the Costa Concordia: initial focus on the “sharp end” of the captain/driver, with immediate denials from the corporate offices of any wrong-doing or failure on their part. Then, once more information comes to light, there is an appreciation that perhaps there were other problems contributing to the sinking or crash.

Instead of an immediate denial of culpability, it would be refreshing if the president or CEO of a company would instead express sorrow at the loss of life and regret at the injuries, coupled with a promise to explore all factors leading up to the event. It is almost inevitable that any such large-scale disaster will have a number of causes and missed opportunities for prevention. However, in a world where such sentiments would affect stockmarkets and bids for contracts, this may remain wishful thinking.

1 comment:

  1. An automatic braking safety system has since been installed at the scene of the accident (