Spain: Train crash driver says he couldn´t avert accident

MADRID (AP) — The driver of a train that crashed in Spain in 2013, killing 80 passengers and injuring 145 others, told a court Thursday that he had braked but couldn´t avoid the accident. He said there had been no signals warning him to reduce speed before the curve where the crash occurred.

Spain’s state news agency Efe and other media outlets said Francisco José Garzón Amo, had difficulty speaking and shed some tears as he began to give testimony. He continually apologized.

He was speaking on the second day of the trial in the northwestern city of Santiago de Compostela.

Prosecutors are seeking four-year prison sentences if Garzón and Andrés Cortabitarte, a former security director at state-owned rail infrastructure company ADIF, are convicted of bearing responsibility for the deaths and injuries. They both are accused of professional negligence.

Cortibitarte was due to give testimony on Friday but the court postponed it until Tuesday. The defendant asked for a delay, saying he was still shaken from being assaulted by a protester and insulted by crowds on leaving the court Wednesday.

An investigation of the July 24, 2013, derailment showed the train was traveling 179 kph (111 mph) on a stretch with an 80 kph (50 mph) speed limit when it left the tracks. The probe also revealed the driver answered a phone call from the conductor just seconds before the crash.

The driver told the court Thursday he was obliged to answer the call as part of his job, but admitted it distracted him.

As is allowed under Spanish law, the driver only agreed to take questions from his own lawyer, Manuel Prieto.

Prieto told reporters Wednesday that missing signposts on the stretch of railway line where the accident occurred and other inadequate safety measures triggered the derailment, not the phone call.

ADIF confirmed days after the crash that an automatic braking program was installed on most of the track leading from Madrid north to Santiago de Compostela but the coverage stopped 5 kilometers (3 miles) south of the accident site, placing a greater burden on the driver.

A group representing victims of the crash, the Alvia 04155 Victims Platform, said it hoped the trial would show that ADIF bore more responsibility for the derailment than the driver.

The trial is expected to last several months and feature some 650 witnesses.