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Train Derailment Kills Scores In Spain


At least 78 people are dead and more than 130 others have been injured, many seriously, after a train derailed last night in Spain. This high-speed train went off the tracks as it went around a curve near the city of Santiago de Compostela, in the northwest of the country. Now, witnesses said the train broke apart and some carriages rolled over several times before coming to a stop. The Spanish prime minister has declared three days of official mourning after the accident. Lisa Abend reports for Time magazine. She's in Madrid. Lisa, good morning.

LISA ABEND: Good morning.

GREENE: So we're hearing from some of the passengers who actually survived this crash. They've been talking to reporters. Are we getting a better picture of exactly what happened?

ABEND: I think so. Initially some of the residents in the area had reported hearing an explosion which gave rise to rumors that this could've been some kind of terrorist attack. But as the authorities are doing their investigations and talking to actual survivors who were onboard the train, it becomes clear that probably what they heard was just the impact of some of the cars in the train hitting a retaining wall, and that it seems increasingly clear that the cause of the accident was excess speed. One of the engineers onboard reported that the train was going 190 kilometers an hour - that would be about 118 miles an hour - around a curve in which the speed was supposed to be about 80 kilometers an hour.

GREENE: I mean there are trains that can go even faster than that, but the problem, it sounds like, was the curve. I mean the train just wasn't supposed to be going that fast at that spot.

ABEND: Exactly. I mean that train itself can reach a speed safely of up to 240 kilometers an hour, but with this particular curve, which was a very tight curve, it was supposed to have been reduced to as low as 80.

GREENE: Some of the photos of this accident are just stunning, I mean with these train cars almost piled one on top of each other. I mean what are some of these passengers who survived saying as they go into some detail?

ABEND: They're describing a scene of complete carnage. And all of them that I've seen give interviews or have spoken with have described (unintelligible) cars flip over, sometimes several times, and inside just everyone being thrown to the floor into scenes of just, you know, chaos. There was one American citizen from Houston who told the local papers that he saw his wife get thrown to the floor where she was gravely injured and was sort of covered in blood as a result of it - although she survived in the end.

GREENE: You know, there are still memories of that terrorist attack on a commuter train in Madrid in 2004 that killed a lot of people. It sounds like this was a matter of high speed. And I guess I wonder if Spain's high speed rail network, does it have a good safety record?

ABEND: Absolutely. This is actually the first accident in its history. The high speed rail was inaugurated in 1992. So when you consider that this is the first accident, that's actually a very good track record.

GREENE: And Lisa, this happened on the eve of a big festival honoring St. James. A lot of Christian pilgrims were onboard this train heading there. Are those events going forward or has this really impacted that?

ABEND: Well, the actual day of St. James is today. The festival, which began on Monday, is a sort of week-long celebration, that although it has some religious aspects to it, it also has a lot of recreational ones. So last night after the accident occurred, the mayor of Santiago cancelled that evening's festivities, which included a fireworks display. And then today, which is the main day of the celebration, all activities have been canceled as well.

GREENE: All right. We've been talking to Lisa Abend from Time magazine about a deadly train derailment in Spain. Lisa, thank you very much.

ABEND: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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