Spain Mourns for Victims of Train Derailment

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Carol Hills: I'm Carol Hills in for Marco Werman and this is "The World", a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH. Spain is a nation in shock. The government has declared three days of mourning after last night's tragic train derailment in the northwest region of Galicia. Here's how one survivor described what happened.

Survivor: [Speaking in Spanish]

Interpreter: The train was going very fast and it derailed as it was going around the corner. It's a disaster. I was very lucky we survived. I don't know how many dead there are but there are many.

Hills: Dozens were killed and many more injured in what is one of Spain's worst ever train crashes. The World's Gerry Hadden is in Spain. And, Gerry, how much do we know so far about what happened?

Gerry Hadden: The working theory so far is still that this was likely caused by human error. You've probably seen the video that's actually online captured by security cameras along the tracks of the crash itself and it's quite clear that the train was moving much faster than the maximum 80 kilometers or about 55 miles per hour permitted on that curve. And the train conductor himself was actually on his radio just before the crash saying that he was doing more than double the maximum speed limit. So he's now under judicial investigation, but at this point it's still so early in the investigation that new information will be coming in over several days. We're still waiting for the black boxes on the train to be examined. One thing we do know for sure is that the driver did not test positive for alcohol.

Hills: It's been a very tough time in Spain economically and now this tragedy. How are people reacting to it?

Hadden: Well, so far at least this is not being framed in economic terms, for example, as the result of austerity or cutbacks in public spending, again, because it does look like human error at this point. And this is very different from the train accident outside Paris earlier this month where track maintenance, or lack of track maintenance, appears to be the cause of the tragedy there that killed six people. Again, here, because of the appearance of human error on a train that was just serviced in high-speed system that's generally kept to very high standards, people are in shock and actually coming together over this rather than going after the government. In fact this morning, an opposition politician tweeted inferring that this was in fact the fault of the government and he was immediately condemned by almost every political party and really ended up with egg on his face.

Hills: How confident do you think people are that they'll get an answer to what really happened here and who's responsible?

Hadden: Well, on the surface, because there does appear be a lot of evidence as to the cause of this point between the video and what amounts to a pre-accident confession from the conductor, one would think this would be a case that is quickly resolved and the cause of the crash quickly localized. But there is some worry that it could become politicized. There was a military plane crash in Turkey over a decade over that took years to even go to trial and there was a major subway accident in Valencia back in 2006, that still has not been resolved and there are protests literally going on this summer over that case. And, of course, in 2004 there were the terrorists attacks in Madrid's main train station and that took forever to resolve and initially started out as a political football with the government trying to blame one domestic terrorist group and others pointing the finger at al-Qaeda as you might remember. So there is some worry that this could become politicized and then drag on for years.

Hills: And this happened just on the eve of a very special occasion, a special annual occasion in Santiago de Compostela, a pilgrimage site, and I understand they've really basically cancelled their celebrations for the weekend.

Hadden: Sure. Just as the federal government has called for three days of national mourning, there is no way that Santiago de Compostela could go ahead with its annual fiesta, its annual festival. And, of course, that hurts tourism and a lot of reservations have been cancelled, people coming in to celebrate and arrive in Santiago which is the end destination for a lot of Catholic pilgrims and other tourists, but given the ongoing unfolding tragedy, there's just no way that any politician in his right mind could let the party go forward.

Hills: The World's Gerry Hadden in Spain. Thanks so much, Gerry.

Hadden: Thanks, Carol.