“We Are Only Human”: Driver Overheard Making Admission Of Excessive Speed In Spanish Train Wreck

article-2377113-1AFD0ED0000005DC-627_634x450The video below shows a Spanish passenger train hurtled off the tracks right in front of a camera. The entire train derailed killing 80 people and injuring another 140. The energy and force released in such a crash is immense and, in what is likely to be played repeated in lawsuits, the driver said that they were doing 120 miles per hour coming into the turn. That would be twice the limit for the urban section. He was heard exclaiming “we’re only human, we’re only human” after the crash.

The Madrid to Ferrol train derailed near the city of Santiago de Compostela and the section has an urban zone with a speed limit of 80 kph but the driver indicated that they were moving as 190 kph.

Witnesses say that driver Francisco Jose Garzon,who helped rescue victims, had shouted: “I’ve derailed! What do I do?” into a phone.

Source quoted one of the drivers as saying ‘I hope there are no dead, because this will fall on my conscience.”

In the United States, this would be a negligence per se case if they were moving at twice the speed limit. There would be little proximate causation problem since the violation of the law is directly related both legally and factually to a derailment. In the United States, there is also a lower standard for negligence (that is the company is more easily subject to liability) as a common carrier.

Obviously, the Spanish tort system is different and tends not to generate the same high awards as in the United States. These cases fall generally under Article 1902 of the Spanish Civil Code. The violation of an administrative standard creates a presumption in these cases in Spain and there are obviously analogies to U.S. tort law despite the differences between common law and civil code systems. I am not sure whether the train company is a governmental or quasi-governmental agency and whether that will alter the way such recovery can take place. Perhaps our Spanish readers can enlighten us.

The tragic loss of life should leave such recovery as less of a priority as dealing with the many grieving families and determining the cause to protect other passengers. The video will be extremely helpful though this seems a clear case of excessive speed. I am simply unclear on how such a speed could be reached above the limit without alarms or intervention on a modern train.

Source: Daily Mail

15 thoughts on ““We Are Only Human”: Driver Overheard Making Admission Of Excessive Speed In Spanish Train Wreck”

  1. Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, Spain Train Crash Driver, Was On The Phone At Time Of Accident, Investigators Say

    MADRID — The driver of the train that derailed and killed 79 people in Spain was on the phone and traveling at 95 mph (153 kph) – almost twice the speed limit – when the crash happened last week, according to a preliminary investigation released Tuesday.

    The train had been going as fast as 119 mph (192 kph) shortly before the derailment, and the driver activated the brakes “seconds before the crash,” according to a written statement from the court in Santiago de Compostela, whose investigators gleaned the information from two “black box” data recorders recovered from the train.

    The speed limit on the section of track was 50 mph (80 kph).

  2. These types of ‘Accidents’ are almost always caused by Human Stupidity…………….

  3. This is interesting. Story in the NYT says the train driver had the ‘need for speed.’

    SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain — The train driver did little to hide his taste for speed. He posted a photograph of a locomotive speedometer needle stuck at 200 kilometers, or about 125 miles, per hour on Facebook last year, boasting that the reading “has not been tampered with” and openly relishing the idea of racing past the authorities.

    Rest of story at the link, with photos:

  4. The latest news says the train driver (or engineer if you prefer) is under police guard in hospital. News stories are not really clear if he has police protection, or is in custody but still hospitalized. One news report says he is under arrest.

    I am not familiar with that train, but I believe it has speed controls. However, almost all such devices, which are somewhat similar to an aircraft autopilot or auto cruise control, can be turned off. Ability to disconnect them is a safety feature in case the electronics decide to do bad things. If the speed control was at fault, the driver should have switched it off and slowed the train manually.

    High speed rail has its drawbacks. Derailments are always a risk, as is hitting objects and animals on the tracks. This video of an experimental proof of concept train in France is an example of how scary truly fast trains can be. Note the chase plane taking aerial shots is a Learjet. The wheels are double flanged, with flanges on both the outside and inside. I notice also the entire route the train travels is fenced in and does not go across any grade crossings.

  5. Gene,

    My daughter said the same thing on her rail trip in Japan…. This does appear to be negligence per se….. But, move the presumption a little and you have a difference in amount of the disaster…..

    PS…. Yes the luggage business has been very viable the last year….

  6. I think JT makes an interesting point in wondering how this can happen on a modern train without alarms or intervention. I wonder whether it willcome out that the operators ignored or bypassed any such alarms or interventions. And, if there are none, why?

  7. You are right Gene that anything can go bad if you misuse it.
    Nick, I believe that attack was at the main terminal in Madrid..

  8. raff, I had a former student and his girlfriend over for dinner earlier this week. They spent the Spring semester in Seville and spoke about this train and how marvelous it was. I just emailed the story to them. If you remember, terrorists hit Spain’s rail system back about the time you were there in an attempt to influence an election. Planes, cars, etc all crash. Hell, we crash into each other just walking. That’s hardly ever injurious. Speed is great, but nothing comes w/o a price. Risk v Reward.

  9. raff,

    Yep. High speed rail is an amazing thing, but like many tools, if you don’t respect it and the forces involved, people can get hurt. The one thing I kept thinking about between Nagoya and Kyoto was “I sure hope we don’t derail.” The train operators and their employers would be wise to settle this out of court if possible. Misusing a tool never goes over well in court when people are harmed by it.

  10. Sad story and an amazing video. If this is the high speed train that goes from Madrid to Sevilla, my wife and I rode this train back in 2006. It was a beautifully smooth and fast ride. If the driver was going twice the allowable speed at that corner, this will a tough case for anyone trying to defend the driver and train company.

  11. This would present some interesting issues if the crash happened here. In WA the train driver could face manslaughter charges due to acting with either criminal negligence or criminal recklessness. RCW 81.48.060 makes it a crime to endanger life through failure to perform duty with regard to safety by a railroad employee. That gives the necessary element to establish the “criminal” negligence part for manslaughter purposes.

    Washington’s common law generally allows a prosecution for Reckless Driving (RCW 46.61.500) when the speed limit is doubled, (along with the statutory enabler of RCW 46.61.465 Exceeding Speed Limit Evidence of Reckless Driving) However, trains are are specifically excluded from the definition of motor vehicle and by statute are not subject to traffic laws. So it would be interesting to see if the common law definition for recklessness for cars (double speed limit) could be applied to railroads.

    It is important because if this was a bus instead of a train, the driver would be clearly guilty of Vehicular Homicide. But a railroad, not so clear.

  12. We are only HUMAN?
    http://rwer.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/edward-snowden-Edward Snowden and…..-financial-speculation-taxes/
    …. Financial Speculation Taxes
    July 23, 2013 deanbaker1
    from Dean Baker
    “This is important background for understanding the effort in Washington to block financial speculation taxes. The basic argument for such taxes is that we have a vast amount of high-speed trading that serves no productive purpose. Much of this trading uses sophisticated computers to get ahead of major orders and siphon off much of the profits for themselves. It’s a high-tech version of insider trading.

    The point of a financial speculation tax is to discourage this sort of rapid trading. Since this trading involves buying and selling stock or derivatives in a fraction of second, even a very modest tax would provide a large disincentive. Such a tax would have almost no impact on normal investors.

    And it could raise lots of money. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio proposed a bill with a tax rate of just 0.03 percent (3 cents on a hundred dollars). The Joint Tax Committee of Congress estimated this tax would raise close to $40 billion a year in revenue. Virtually all of this money would come at the expense of the financial industry. The impact on individuals with 401(k)s and other long-term investors would be almost invisible.

    In fact, research shows that trading volume is likely to fall roughly in proportion to the increase in trading costs. For example, if this tax raised trading costs by 20 percent, then the turnover of stock in a typical 401(k) would fall by roughly 20 percent, leaving total trading costs virtually unchanged.

    In short, this tax seems like a win-win proposition. It raises lots of money for the government, while making the financial markets more efficient and possibly less volatile. Everyone comes out ahead except Wall Street.

    This tax would be a huge deal for the big Wall Street banks, which is why they are using everything in their arsenal to try to stop it. At the moment much of their attention has been devoted to sinking a speculation tax that seems likely to go into effect in the European Union (EU). The Wall Street banks have enlisted the Treasury Department to throw up every obstacle imaginable to prevent the EU from adopting the tax.

    However they also concerned about growing support for a speculation tax in the United States. Since the financial crisis this idea has very much entered the mainstream, with many prominent economists, columnists and politicians endorsing it. Even the International Monetary Fund now supports increasing taxes on the financial sector.

    The financial industry has used its lobbyists to develop a number of arguments against a financial speculation tax. Most of their arguments don’t pass the laugh test.”
    tonyforesta | July 23, 2013 at 6:52 pm |

    Brilliant idea Bruce, thanks for sharing. “Everyone comes out ahead except Wall Street.”. Hopefully the spaniels in our government will push this simple and necessary “speculation tax” forward to deincentivise the TBTF oligarchs from profiting on speculation that serves absolutely NO public good.
    Doktor Don | July 23, 2013 at 8:27 pm |

    I have favored a millage tax on every transaction that takes place on Wall Street each day, for some time. All, “buy – – sell,” transactions, bonds, stocks, real estate, etc.; would be subject to said Tax. Over three Billion Transactions a day. The money should be ear-marked to pay down the National Debt. It might even have a Sunset Clause. The Robber Barons on Wall Street were a major contributor to the Crash of 2008; thus, it would be fitting to have them contribute to the pay down of the Nation’s Debt..

    The Marginal Tax Rate needs to be returned to the level it was before Reagan was elected. The difference between what it is today; and, what it was previously; could be ear-marked to pay down the National Debt, as well.

    Here’s the clincher: An Inheritance Tax earmarked to pay down the National Debt. Let the Rich leave their Off-Spring an, agreed on inheritance ( one, five, 10 Million); then the rest goes to pay down the National Debt. Man came into this World without anything – – thus, he goes out the same way; but, is allowed to leave a $$$ Legacy to One’s Children. This too, could be set to expire when the Debt is paid down to an acceptable level.

    Finally,add a Federal Luxury Tax on high ticket items; and, help reduce the YEARLY Operating Budget Deficit. Cut the Military Budget back to the Clinton Era; and, eliminate all Corporate Welfare Subsidies. Going to a Single Payer – – National Health Care Plan would save the Government Billions as well.

  13. So Spain has a failure to regulate train safety, and we have a failure to regulate flash crashes and derivatives on a global basis. The excuse that we are only human does not hold up!

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