Santiago de Compostela

In the aftermath of the terrible train crash in Spain, I’m seeing a lot of people who know nothing about railway technology trying to blame everything on the driver, and quoting things he’s allegedly said on Facebook as evidence. With the level of automated safety systems on high-speed rail, an accident of this nature is very unlikely though driver error alone; the investigation will almost certainly reveal some kind of technical failure.

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4 Responses to Santiago de Compostela

  1. Chuk says:

    I saw in the news that the black box said the driver was going 192 km/h in an 80 km/h zone and talking on his cell phone. Wouldn’t that count as driver error?

  2. Tim Hall says:

    First, the cellphone was an incoming call from another member of the train crew, which distracted the driver at the point where he should have applied the brakes to slow down for the curve. It was the train company cellphone, not a personal one.

    Second, there was no fail-safe that automatically applied the brakes on the approach to the speed-restricted curve if the train was going too fast. That is established technology that I’d have expected to have been installed on a brand-new piece of railway line.

    This is a wider systems failure than simple driver error.

  3. Michael says:

    Well designed systems require two people to bungle before an accident of this magnitude can happen.

    It looks like the driver is responsible, but I agree with Tim that there ought to have been a fail-safe on that curve and that looks like an organisation not spending enough on safety equipment to me. Will anyone take the rap for that though? I doubt it.

  4. Tim Hall says:

    Worth noting that since the introduction of TWPS (Train Production and Warning System) across the whole network following a couple of bad crashes around the turn of the century, we’ve gone a full decade in Britain without a single passenger fatality caused by driver error.