Spain blames victims in train crash

2010-06-25 09:03
Castelldefels - Spanish officials blamed summer solstice partygoers for crossing the tracks into the path of an express train that killed at least 13, but others said a new underground exit was poorly marked and an old crossing was blocked off, leaving travellers confused.

In addition to the dead, at least 14 were injured in the beach resort of Castelldefels, south of Barcelona, shortly before midnight on Wednesday as crowds of young people left a train heading for bonfires on a Mediterranean beach. Many jammed the underpass leading to the beach, but about 30 others climbed down from the platform and tried to scurry across the tracks.

They were struck and mangled by a train barreling through the station in northeastern Spain.

Development Minister Jose Blanco on Thursday denied claims the underpass was poorly marked, and insisted that passengers should have known that "you never, never, never cross the tracks".

"Everything pointed to negligence," Blanco added, saying he hoped the tragedy would make riders understand that they must obey station rules.

But Arrellano Ruiz, the Ecuadorean consul in Barcelona, said passengers did not see the signs for the underpass exit and mistakenly headed to an overpass that had been closed since a 2009 renovation.

Victor Morlan, Spain's infrastructure secretary, acknowledged that the overpass has been blocked off since last year but insisted there were enough signs telling passengers how to safely reach the beach.

"It had a sign system that was well made and it had a loudspeaker service that pointed out that the tracks must not be crossed," Morlan said.

The express train also sounded a warning signal as it approached.

Most of the victims were Latin American, but authorities did not identify them or release a breakdown of their nationalities.

Joan Saura, interior minister for Spain's Catalonia region where the crash happened, said the identification of the mutilated bodies "will not be easy and it will not be fast".

Mutilated people

Spain's deadliest train accident since 2003 occurred during a nationwide ritual called Noche de San Juan, or the night of St John, which is held each June 23 just after the summer solstice. People light bonfires in town squares and on beaches, dance around them, drink beer, barbecue food and set off fireworks.

Marcelo Cardona, who was on the commuter train, said everyone had been looking forward to the party.

"The euphoria of getting off the train immediately became screams. There were people screaming, 'My daughter! My sister!"' said Cardona, a 34-year-old Bolivian. He said he saw "mutilated people, blood everywhere, blood on the platform".

Rail crews later had to hose down the bloodied train tracks.

Felipe Elmaji, a 29-year-old Moroccan travelling with Cardona, said he heard a "thump, thump of the train hitting people".

Cardona's sister Candy recalled the train's warning whistle. "It was horrible. I can't get that sound out of my head," she said.

Cardona said the underpass was jammed with the overflowing crowd from the train.

Spanish news agency Europa Press quoted unnamed RENFE officials as saying the express train was traveling at 87mph  and the driver tested negative for alcohol and was in shock. RENFE refused to confirm or deny the report.

Of the 14 injured, one was in extremely critical condition, two were in critical condition, officials said. Except for one woman in her 40s, all of the injured were 19 or younger and two were minors.

A day of mourning was declared in the Catalonia region and King Juan Carlos canceled the annual celebration of his Saint's day.

Spain's worst previous train accident came in 2003, when 19 people died in a collision between passenger and freight trains in the southeastern town of Chinchilla.

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