Spain train driver was on phone and speeding when crash occurred

MADRID -- Data from "black box" recorders show the driver of a train that derailed and killed 79 passengers in northern Spain was on the phone while driving at almost twice the speed limit at the time of impact, a Spanish court said Tuesday.

Audio from inside the driver's booth reveals that minutes before the accident, the driver received a phone call on his work line from a fellow employee of Renfe, the Spanish train company. The two were discussing the train's route, and the driver seemed to have been consulting a document, according to a statement posted on the website of Galicia's high court (link in Spanish).

The train derailed Wednesday night near the northwest pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia. Seventy-nine people were killed and dozens remain hospitalized. It was the worst rail accident in Spain since 1972.

During the driver's phone call, the train reached a top speed of 119 mph, at which point the driver applied the brakes -- only seconds before it derailed. It was still speeding at 95 mph at the moment it derailed on a sharp curve, smashing into a concrete wall and catapulting its carriages. The recommended speed on that curve is 50 mph.

The so-called "black boxes," which are actually yellowish-orange in this case, were transported to Madrid on Tuesday morning and examined by a judge. Their contents were described in the statement by Galicia's court, which is leading the investigation.

The train's driver, 52-year-old Francisco Garzon, was arrested hours after the crash. He has been provisionally charged with 72 counts of reckless homicide. His passport and driver's license were confiscated, and he was released Sunday on bail.


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