Driver Francisco Jose Garzon Amo charged over derailed Spanish train

He faces questions today over what caused the crash that killed 78 people

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The Independent Online

The driver of the Spanish train that derailed in Santiago de Compostela last Wednesday, killing 78 people, was charged yesterday with reckless manslaughter. Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, 52, will appear before a judge today to answer questions about how the crash occurred. He had been arrested on Thursday, and was treated in hospital after sustaining head injuries during the crash.

On Friday it was reported Mr Garzon Amo had declined to give a statement to police. "He has been arrested by the police on charges of alleged reckless homicide," Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said yesterday at police headquarters in Santiago de Compostela.

The minister added: "There is rational evidence to lead us to think that the driver could have eventual responsibility."

Police had already said that Mr Garzon Amo was suspected of "recklessness" in driving the train much too fast through a curve on the outskirts of Santiago, causing it to slam into a concrete wall next to the track.

He was expected to give a preliminary statement to judicial police as early as Thursday, but the process was delayed, reportedly due to health reasons. Unconfirmed media reports said that Mr Garzon Amo had also injured his ribs.

Normally, police take a first statement that is then examined by an investigating judge who must take testimony within 72 hours of the arrest. That deadline is today.

Gonzalo Ferre, president of Adif, Spain's rail infrastructure agency, said on Friday it was the driver's responsibility to brake before going into the high-risk curve, and signs clearly mark the point when the driver must begin to slow. Mr Garzon Amo should have started slowing the train 2.5 miles before the dangerous bend, according to Mr Ferre.

The government is hoping that a clearer picture will emerge from two official investigations, one judicial and one by government agencies. It hopes to determine whether the accident is the result of human error or a problem with the train, the track or the security that controls the speed of the railway.

In Wednesday's crash, the train's eight carriages packed with 218 passengers failed to negotiate a bend and violently tipped over. Diesel fuel sent flames coursing through some cabins. The blood-soaked driver was photographed being escorted from the wreckage, at first by civilians who had hurried to the scene of the accident and then by police. Several bodies found at the scene of the crash were still unidentified yesterday and dozens of injured were in hospital in a serious condition.

Plans for the local festival of St James were scheduled to begin this week but were cancelled following the train crash. The region of Galicia, of which Santiago is the capital, is preparing an official memorial for the victims tomorrow. Mourners placed candles at the entrance to the centuries-old cathedral, and pilgrims left handwritten notes in support of victims and their families.

There is growing pressure for assurances that Spain's rail network is safe. An editorial in El Pais said: "It is essential that we get guarantees about what the public believed was a model railway system but which suddenly turns out to have worrying security flaws."