Spanish train wreck driver got warnings before crash

Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a train derailment in Santiago de Compostela, Spain on Wednesday July 24 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: AP
Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a train derailment in Santiago de Compostela, Spain on Wednesday July 24 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: AP

MADRID (REUTERS) - The driver of the Spanish train that derailed last week, killing dozens of passengers, had received three warning signals after taking a phone call minutes before the fatal accident, an examination of the black box showed on Friday.

Ticket inspector Antonio Martin, on the same train, had rung driver Francisco Garzon to discuss what platform the train would use at a station further down the line, the driver told an investigating judge in an earlier hearing.

The train derailed killing 79 people on the outskirts of the ancient north-western town of Santiago de Compostela last week in one of Spain's worst rail disasters. Garzon, 52, appeared to take the train too fast through a tight curve.

The driver has been charged with negligent homicide but has been released without bail pending trial.

Garzon took the call at 2039 local time (2.39am Singapore time) when the train was going 199kmh, details from the black box released on Friday showed. The call lasted less than two minutes and ended 11 seconds before the train came off the rails, the black box details showed.

The driver braked at 2040 when the train was traveling at 195km per hour instead of the speed limit of 80kmh on that stretch of track, but it was too late.

Warning signals sounded at 2039, 2040 and 2041, but it was not clear from the black box transcripts released by the court whether they were to reduce speed. Spanish state television said on Friday the first signal indicated a green light on the track.

The investigating judge said on Thursday it was unfortunate that the call was made when it was but it was not sufficient cause to criminally charge the ticket inspector.