Spanish train crash: 'I keep thinking, I was actually there... that was almost us'

An English woman teaching in Spain was on the train before it crashed. Oscar Quine hears her story

When Amy Barnicoat-Hood realised how narrowly she escaped last week’s train crash in Spain which killed 80 people, her first reaction was to laugh out of sheer, glad-to-be-alive relief. Only later did the horror of the accident become clear.

“It took a while to sink in. I think at first I was in shock. Then, on Thursday night, I couldn’t sleep. I just kept thinking ‘that was really close’. I had nightmares: I couldn’t stop thinking about the people in the queue that I’d let in front of me. In a way... I let them closer to their death.”

Boarding the ill-fated train at Madrid’s Camartine station, Amy and her boyfriend Ignacio Gorostidi Sánchez stepped out of the queue to look for their passports. When they retook their place, a grey-haired man scowled at them, thinking they had pushed in. Ahead, a short, middle-aged woman chain-smoked. “That’s what I keep coming back to: the people we were waiting with who may have been killed,” says Amy, 25, an English teacher living in Madrid who grew up near Kendal in Cumbria. “It’s horrific.”

“At first, I wanted to know what had happened and read the newspaper and watched reports on the TV. But now, all the coverage is about who’s to blame and what should happen next. It’s trivial and depressing.”

Last weekend was a regional bank holiday in Galicia. Many people were leaving Madrid early to be with their families. Their train had departed at 3pm and as it approached Galicia, Amy looked up at the speedometer in their carriage. It read 200kmh (124mph). “Jesus, that’s fast,” she said to Ignacio.

They passed the seven-and-a-half hour journey playing cards and sleeping. At the town of Ourense, the train divided, with Amy and Ignacio’s section completing the journey to the coast. The other section – driven by Francisco Jose Garzon Amo, who now awaits 79 charges of reckless homicide – continued north-west, towards Santiago de Compostela. After a straight, gradually declining 80km stretch of track, the train entered a corner at over twice the speed limit, smashing into an embankment.

Amy is still shaken by how close they came to tragedy and says she can’t stop thinking about the train journey she will have to make alone back to Madrid. “It’s so surreal. I keep thinking ‘I was actually there… that was almost us’.”

The region has been deeply shaken by the accident. Galicia is fiercely regional: locals speak their own dialect and those who move to Madrid or Barcelona maintain strong ties to their hometown. Ignacio’s mother grew up with an uncle in Bueu, a village of 13,000 on the northern coast, and the family return every summer.

It is an hour’s drive south of Santiago de Compostela, a site of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages which was to host the feast of St James last weekend. In Spanish, St James is Santiago, while the origin of Compostela is unclear, with suggestions that it is a corruption of the old Spanish for burial ground. The literal translation is “field of stars”. Instead of celebrations last weekend, the stages sat silent, adorned with black ribbons commemorating the dead.

“Had I been killed in the accident, people in England wouldn’t have found out until early this week, at least. They’re still identifying the bodies, and it would have taken them a while to get in touch with my family,” says Amy. “Friends have been ringing me all week. I feel a bit stupid because a lot of people died or were injured and I’m getting these calls and messages saying ‘I hope you’re OK’. I don’t feel it’s deserved; something terrible has happened and a lot of people have died – and really I’m fine.”

Three warnings in two minutes before tragedy

The driver of the Spanish train ignored three warnings to reduce speed in the two minutes before the train hurtled off the tracks on a treacherous curve, investigators have said.

A court statement said the driver was talking on the phone to a colleague when he received the first automatic warning in his cabin of a sharply reduced speed zone ahead. The statement said the warning was by means of an audible sound but provided no further detail.

Police tests on the train’s data recorders showed that the last warning came just 250 metres before the point where the accident occurred.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Maintenance Person

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent