According to Spanish rail investigators, the train that derailed on Wednesday, killing 78 people, was traveling at twice the speed limit. The train was on its way to Santiago de Compostela, carrying 247 passengers, when the incident happened.
“It’s clear that the train was overspeeding," notes Christian Wolmar, a leading British rail expert. “The stretch where it derailed has a tricky layout. The train comes off a high-speed stretch and goes into a curve, and at the same time, the signal systems change.”
The rail company, Renfe, has argued that the train had no technical problems. On the other hand, says Wolmar, "Train engineers are highly trained. It’s very unlikely that the accident just happened due to the driver being sloppy.”
The derailment, which also injured some 140 people, is the worst train accident in Spanish history. Still, note experts, rail travel remains far safer than cars.
“And rail travel is safer per journey than air travel,” explains Wolmar. “We’re in a 200-year trend of increasing rail safety. Trains are much safer today than they were just 10 years ago, and the same goes for aviation. Most train accidents happen in countries like India.”
The accident occurred the evening before Santiago de Compostela’s famous St. James festival, which takes place on July 25 every year. The city attracts pilgrims from around the world. On Thursday, Pope Francis sent a telegram to Archbishop Julian Barrio Barrio of Santiago de Compostela, asking the archbishop to convey "my affection and sincere fraternal solidarity to those who have suffered in this tragedy and to their families. I assure them of my prayers for the eternal repose of the souls of the dead. On this day, in which the church is entrusted to the intercession of St. James, I wish to express my support to all the sons of this noble land, and impart a heartfelt apostolic blessing."