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Train driver Francisco Jos Garz n, 52, arrested
Black box data crucial in finding out why train was speeding
Seventy-eight killed in crash near Santiago de Compostela

The black boxes from the high-speed train that hurtled off the tracks in north-west Spain have been recovered from the wreckage and handed to investigators, officials say.

The recorders, which register speed, distances and other data, are crucial to resolving the mystery of why the Alvia 151 shot into a tight bend in the approach to Santiago de Compostela at more than twice the approved speed.

Police in Santiago de Compostela said the driver of the train, 52-year-old Francisco Jos Garz n, had been under arrest since Thursday evening.

El Pa s reported that Garz n had received an order to reduce speed just seconds before the crash, and acknowledged it by pressing a button in the drivers’ cab. It remained unclear whether he had been unable or unwilling to brake the train, which was running five minutes behind schedule.

A spokeswoman for the courts in Santiago del Compostela, Mar a Pardo R os, confirmed on Friday that the train’s “black boxes” had been found, but did not indicate how long the analysis would take.

Police revised the death toll on Thursday to 78, but said the count could change as body parts were identified. Antonio del Amo, head of the Spanish national police’s central forensic unit, said 78 bodies had been recovered, together with numerous body parts. He said that six of the corpses had yet to be identified.

The city’s police chief, Jaime Iglesias, said Garz n would not be interrogated on Friday.

Garz n was led from the scene of the tragedy with his face covered in blood. He was given nine stitches to a head wound, but was otherwise apparently unharmed.

The driver spent the night in hospital with his mother at his bedside and under police guard. Contacted by telephone by the regional newspaper, La Voz de Galicia, Garz n refused to comment beyond saying “You [can] imagine how I am.”

In a recorded call to the emergency services shortly after the disaster, Garz n reportedly said: “I should have been going at 80 [km/h] and I am [sic] going at 190.” He reportedly added: “Let’s hope there aren’t any dead.”

Garz n reportedly tested negative for alcohol following the crash.

Colleagues described Garz n as an experienced railwayman who had worked for Spain’s national rail company, Renfe, for around 30 years. He had been a driver since 2003. The company’s president, Julio G mez-Pomar Rodr guez, said Garz n, from Monforte de Lemos, also in Spain’s north-west, had worked on the Ourense to Santiago stretch of the high-speed network where the accident took place for more than a year.

Garz n’s position was compromised by the emergence of a photograph that he posted to his Facebook page showing his speedometer at 200km/h. It was not clear if, when the photograph was taken, he was on a stretch of the network where high speeds were permitted.

It nevertheless surprised Garz n’s friends. One wrote: “You’re going like the bloody clappers, lad. Brake.” The driver replied: “I’m at the limit. I can’t go faster, otherwise they’ll fine me.”

The daily El Mundo, which first published the photograph and the exchange of messages on its website, said that they had been removed from Garz n’s Facebook page.

The accident took place just after the point at which one safety system gives way to another. For the first 80km after Ourense, the line is ostensibly governed by the EU-sponsored European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), which would have braked the train automatically. However, on the approach to Santiago de Compostela station the track is subject to Spain’s ASFA system. This will stop a train altogether, but only if it is travelling at more than 200km an hour.

At lower speeds, warning signals are emitted. But it is left to the driver to implement them.

The train derailed just a few hundred metres beyond the cut-off point for the ERTMS, raising the question of why the system did not intervene to brake the train earlier.

El Pa s quoted a government source as saying that, even on the stretch of the line on which the ERTMS had been installed since November 2011, it was not used. No reason was given.

According to Renfe, there were 218 passengers and five railway staff on the train involved. It is Spain’s worst rail accident for more than 40 years. By late on Friday morning, 83 people were still in hospital, with 32 of them on the critical list.

News agency reports Garz n telling emergency services: ‘I hope there are no dead – they will be on my conscience. I want to die’

Several Spanish rail experts have voiced the opinion that mere negligence cannot explain Wednesday night’s crash: that the “black boxes” recovered from the train will show that a technical fault was partly – or perhaps entirely – to blame for what happened. But the arrest of the driver, Francisco Jos Garz n, and a steady trickle of extracts from the transcripts of conversations he held immediately after the disaster have increasingly focused attention on his role.

While still trapped in the cockpit of his train, the Alvia 151, he is said to have told the emergency service of Spain’s national rail company, Renfe: “I hope there are no dead, because they will be on my conscience.” He also reportedly said over and again: “We’re human.”

The Spanish news agency Europa Press reported that during the same conversation, though it was not clear in what context, Garz n had said: “I’ve fucked it. I want to die.”

His position also appeared to have been compromised by the emergence of a photograph he posted to his Facebook page showing his speedometer at 200km/h.. Garz n is, however, a driver of high-speed trains and he may have been on a stretch of the network where such a speed is permitted.

The photograph went up on 8 March 2012. Renfe’s president, Julio G mez-Pomar Rodr guez, said Garz n had worked on the Ourense-Santiago line for more than a year. Before that, he was on the line between Madrid and Barcelona, which is served by so-called AVE trains that can reach speeds of 310km/h.

The photograph nevertheless surprised Garz n’s friends. One wrote: “You’re going like the bloody clappers, lad. Brake.” The driver replied: “I’m at the limit. I can’t go faster, otherwise they’ll fine me.”

The photograph and the exchange of messages on Garz n’s Facebook page disappeared early on Thursday morning.

The driver of the ill-fated train was born 52 years ago in Monforte de Lemos, a town 70 miles inland from Santiago de Compostela. It was there that he began work for Renfe in his early 20s.

It was not until 2003, however, that he became a driver. Spain’s high-speed railway network was a prime symbol of the country’s prodigious economic growth after joining the European Union in 1986 and, like the other drivers on the network, Garz n is well qualified and regularly evaluated.

To be licensed for the AVE trains, or the slower but still fast Alvias, drivers must have either a higher technical diploma or the academic qualifications for university entry. They have to have spent at least four years driving conventional trains.

They then have to pass a special exam that includes tests designed to show that they are physically and psychologically fit for the job. Even if they pass, they are entrusted with a train only after having demonstrated that they have a full understanding of how it works and the line that it plies. AVE and Alvia drivers, moreover, must renew their licences every three years.

Garz n asked to be transferred to his native Galicia in Spain’s north-west because, he said, he wanted to be able to spend more time with his sick mother. But it was his mother who was at the train driver’s hospital bedside on the Thursday night as police, acting on orders from the investigating magistrate, stood guard nearby.

More details emerge of Francisco Garz n, 52, as he recovers in hospital after train crash that left at least 78 dead

The focus of the investigation into Spain’s worst rail accident for 40 years remains on the train’s driver, Francisco Garz n, who has been under arrest in hospital since Thursday evening.

Garz n has so far refused to answer police questions, the Press Association reported. He was now expected to questioned by a judge, it said.

At least 78 people died in the accident in which the high-speed Alvia 151 train careered into a sharp curve at more than twice the permitted speed before hurtling off the tracks. By Friday night, 31 were critically ill in hospital, some of them in comas.

Antonio del Amo, head of the Spanish national police’s central forensic unit, said six of the bodies recovered from the wreckage had yet to be identified.

On Friday, more reports of Garz n’s actions leading up to the crash began to emerge. The daily El Pa s reported that the experienced 52-year-old driver had received an order to reduce speed just seconds before the crash and had acknowledged it by pressing a button in the driver’s cab. It remained unclear whether he had been unable or unwilling to apply the brakes on the train, which was running five minutes behind schedule.

A stream of leaked extracts from recorded conversations immediately following the disaster suggested that Garz n held himself responsible for what had happened.

While still trapped in the cockpit of his train, he was reported to have told the emergency service of the state-owned train operator, Renfe: “I hope there are no dead, because they will be on my conscience.” He added: “I should have been going at 80 [kph] and I am going at 190.” Garzon also reportedly said over and again: “We’re human, we’re human.”

The Spanish news agency Europa Press reported that during the same conversation the driver had said: “I’ve fucked it. I want to die.”

Contacted by telephone in hospital by the regional newspaper, La Voz de Galicia, Garz n refused to comment beyond saying, “You imagine how I am.”

Details also began to emerge of Garz n’s life. He is a lifelong railwayman and native of Galicia, living in the city of A Coru a with his widowed mother, who lost her other son in a car accident. But he was born in Monforte, an important regional rail centre, and has a flat there.

The son of a railway worker, Garz n was brought up in housing built for railway workers and went to a school run by Renfe. It was in Monforte, 70 miles inland from Santiago de Compostela, that he began working for the company in his early 20s.

He had 10 years’ experience as a driver and Renfe’s president, Julio G mez-Pomar Rodr guez, said Garz n had worked on the Ourense to Santiago line, where the accident took place, for more than a year.

Before returning to his native Galicia, he had worked on the line between Madrid and Barcelona, which is served by so-called AVE trains that can reach speeds of 310kph (193mph).

Julia Morais, a friend of his own age in his home town of Monforte de Lemos, told Reuters: “He was sensible and very good at his job. We don’t know what could have happened.”

Garz n’s professionalism appeared to have been compromised by the discovery of a photograph he posted to his Facebook page showing his speedometer at 200kph. However, as a driver of high-speed trains he may have been on a stretch of the network where such a speed is permitted. The photograph was posted on 8 March 2012. It nevertheless surprised Garzon’s friends. One wrote: “You’re going like the bloody clappers, lad. Brake.”

Garz n is suspected of criminal recklessness, but has not yet been charged. Spanish rail experts have argued that mere negligence cannot explain the crash: that the “black boxes” recovered from the train will show that a technical fault was partly – or perhaps entirely – to blame for what happened. Garz n reportedly tested negative for alcohol following the crash.

Garz n was led from the scene of the tragedy with his face covered in blood and given nine stitches to a head wound, but appeared otherwise uninjured.

Meanwhile, in the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela, a shrine to the victims of the rail disaster was forming spontaneously at the entrance to the great cathedral of St James on Friday evening.

Friday was the feast of St James and the day many of the pilgrims to the traditional site of his tomb in the cathedral aim to complete their journeys. Some tied little bunches of flowers to the railings at the entrance. Others placed candles and notes on the ledges below. Nearby, a stack of pilgrims’ staffs leant against the wall.

A day for the ending of journeys was appropriate for remembering those who on Wednesday failed to complete theirs. In many cases it was sheer chance that some of the passengers aboard the Alvia 151 lived and others died.

Carmen Quiroga from A Coru a had switched to a later train because she stood a better chance of dining aboard in peace. As soon as her son heard of the accident, he rang her mobile, but it was out of range. “When I eventually spoke to him, he began to weep: he thought I was there,” she told La Voz de Galicia.

Benito Est vez changed his plans after learning from his parents that a relative had been taken to hospital, seriously ill. “I feared that I’d never see him again,” he said.

Others were as unlucky as Quiroga and Estevez were fortunate. A young man at the scene of the accident who declined to be named said he had swapped seats on the way up from Madrid with a woman who was killed when the train derailed.

Father Ricardo V zquez, the spiritual director of the seminary in Santiago, was among those on hand to provide comfort at the centre where relatives of the victims learned of their loved ones’ fate. Among the “devastated human beings” he attended was a man who “was crying out that he wanted to die because he felt responsible for the death of his daughter whom he had persuaded to come and visit him”.

Manuel Su rez, a sales representative from near Santiago, often travelled to Madrid for his work, but never by rail. “He always went by car or plane,” said a cousin. “But on this occasion, he said: ‘This time, I’ll go by train.'”