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Probe derailment focuses on train’s speed

  • CORRECTS DATE - This image taken from security camera video shows a train derailing in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Wedmesday July 24, 2013. Spanish investigators tried to determine Thursday why a passenger train jumped the tracks and sent eight cars crashing into each other just before arriving in this northwestern shrine city on the eve of a major Christian religious festival, killing at least 77 people and injuring more than 140. (AP Photo)

    CORRECTS DATE - This image taken from security camera video shows a train derailing in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Wedmesday July 24, 2013. Spanish investigators tried to determine Thursday why a passenger train jumped the tracks and sent eight cars crashing into each other just before arriving in this northwestern shrine city on the eve of a major Christian religious festival, killing at least 77 people and injuring more than 140. (AP Photo)

  • This aerial image taken from video shows a general view of the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday July 25, 2013. The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to 77 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo)

    This aerial image taken from video shows a general view of the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday July 25, 2013. The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to 77 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo)

  • Derailed cars are removed as emergency personnel work at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain on Thursday July 25, 2013. The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to more than 70 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo/Lalo Villar)

    Derailed cars are removed as emergency personnel work at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain on Thursday July 25, 2013. The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to more than 70 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo/Lalo Villar)

  • Derailed cars are removed as emergency personnel work at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. The death toll in the passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to 77 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo/ Lalo Villar)

    Derailed cars are removed as emergency personnel work at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. The death toll in the passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to 77 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo/ Lalo Villar)

  • Emergency personnel work at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to 77 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo/ Lalo Villar)

    Emergency personnel work at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to 77 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo/ Lalo Villar)

  • Relatives of the victims involved in Wednesday's train accident react at a victims information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. Relatives of victims from a train crash in northwestern Spain sobbed and hugged each other Thursday near a makeshift morgue in a sports arena for the victims as the death toll rose to 78 and investigators tried to determine the cause. The train jumped the tracks and at least one passenger told a radio station that it appeared to be going very fast as it went into a pronounced curve while approaching the station in this Catholic shrine city on the eve of a major religious festival. (AP Photo/ Salome Montes)

    Relatives of the victims involved in Wednesday's train accident react at a victims information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. Relatives of victims from a train crash in northwestern Spain sobbed and hugged each other Thursday near a makeshift morgue in a sports arena for the victims as the death toll rose to 78 and investigators tried to determine the cause. The train jumped the tracks and at least one passenger told a radio station that it appeared to be going very fast as it went into a pronounced curve while approaching the station in this Catholic shrine city on the eve of a major religious festival. (AP Photo/ Salome Montes)

  • Relatives of victims involved in a train accident react at a victims information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday July 25, 2013. Relatives of victims from a train crash in northwestern Spain sobbed and hugged each other Thursday near a makeshift morgue in a sports arena for the victims as the death toll rose to 78 and investigators tried to determine the cause. The train jumped the tracks and at least one passenger told a radio station that it appeared to be going very fast as it went into a pronounced curve while approaching the station in this Catholic shrine city on the eve of a major religious festival. (AP Photo/Brais Lorenzo)

    Relatives of victims involved in a train accident react at a victims information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday July 25, 2013. Relatives of victims from a train crash in northwestern Spain sobbed and hugged each other Thursday near a makeshift morgue in a sports arena for the victims as the death toll rose to 78 and investigators tried to determine the cause. The train jumped the tracks and at least one passenger told a radio station that it appeared to be going very fast as it went into a pronounced curve while approaching the station in this Catholic shrine city on the eve of a major religious festival. (AP Photo/Brais Lorenzo)

  • A woman reacts as relatives of victims of a train accident wait for news while gathering at an area where information will be released  in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to 77 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo/ Salome Montes)

    A woman reacts as relatives of victims of a train accident wait for news while gathering at an area where information will be released in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to 77 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo/ Salome Montes)

  • A woman reacts as relatives of victims of a train accident wait for news while gathering at an area where information will be released  in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to 77 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo/ Salome Montes)

    A woman reacts as relatives of victims of a train accident wait for news while gathering at an area where information will be released in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to 77 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo/ Salome Montes)

  • Relatives of the victims involved in Wednesday's train accident react at a victims information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. Relatives of victims from a train crash in northwestern Spain sobbed and hugged each other Thursday near a makeshift morgue in a sports arena for the victims as the death toll rose to 78 and investigators tried to determine the cause. The train jumped the tracks and at least one passenger told a radio station that it appeared to be going very fast as it went into a pronounced curve while approaching the station in this Catholic shrine city on the eve of a major religious festival. (AP Photo/ Salome Montes)

    Relatives of the victims involved in Wednesday's train accident react at a victims information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. Relatives of victims from a train crash in northwestern Spain sobbed and hugged each other Thursday near a makeshift morgue in a sports arena for the victims as the death toll rose to 78 and investigators tried to determine the cause. The train jumped the tracks and at least one passenger told a radio station that it appeared to be going very fast as it went into a pronounced curve while approaching the station in this Catholic shrine city on the eve of a major religious festival. (AP Photo/ Salome Montes)

  • A firefighter uses and axe to open their way inside a train car at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. An Associated Press analysis of video images shows that a Spanish train was traveling well above the speed limit when it derailed, killing at least 80 people. Officials say the speed limit on that section of track is 80 kph (50 mph). (AP Photo/Lalo Villar)

    A firefighter uses and axe to open their way inside a train car at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. An Associated Press analysis of video images shows that a Spanish train was traveling well above the speed limit when it derailed, killing at least 80 people. Officials say the speed limit on that section of track is 80 kph (50 mph). (AP Photo/Lalo Villar)

  • CORRECTS DATE - This image taken from security camera video shows a train derailing in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Wedmesday July 24, 2013. Spanish investigators tried to determine Thursday why a passenger train jumped the tracks and sent eight cars crashing into each other just before arriving in this northwestern shrine city on the eve of a major Christian religious festival, killing at least 77 people and injuring more than 140. (AP Photo)
  • This aerial image taken from video shows a general view of the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday July 25, 2013. The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to 77 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo)
  • Derailed cars are removed as emergency personnel work at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain on Thursday July 25, 2013. The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to more than 70 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo/Lalo Villar)
  • Derailed cars are removed as emergency personnel work at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. The death toll in the passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to 77 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo/ Lalo Villar)
  • Emergency personnel work at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to 77 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo/ Lalo Villar)
  • Relatives of the victims involved in Wednesday's train accident react at a victims information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. Relatives of victims from a train crash in northwestern Spain sobbed and hugged each other Thursday near a makeshift morgue in a sports arena for the victims as the death toll rose to 78 and investigators tried to determine the cause. The train jumped the tracks and at least one passenger told a radio station that it appeared to be going very fast as it went into a pronounced curve while approaching the station in this Catholic shrine city on the eve of a major religious festival. (AP Photo/ Salome Montes)
  • Relatives of victims involved in a train accident react at a victims information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday July 25, 2013. Relatives of victims from a train crash in northwestern Spain sobbed and hugged each other Thursday near a makeshift morgue in a sports arena for the victims as the death toll rose to 78 and investigators tried to determine the cause. The train jumped the tracks and at least one passenger told a radio station that it appeared to be going very fast as it went into a pronounced curve while approaching the station in this Catholic shrine city on the eve of a major religious festival. (AP Photo/Brais Lorenzo)
  • A woman reacts as relatives of victims of a train accident wait for news while gathering at an area where information will be released  in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to 77 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo/ Salome Montes)
  • A woman reacts as relatives of victims of a train accident wait for news while gathering at an area where information will be released  in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. The death toll in a passenger train crash in northwestern Spain rose to 77 on Thursday after the train jumped the tracks on a curvy stretch just before arriving in the northwestern shrine city of Santiago de Compostela, a judicial official said. (AP Photo/ Salome Montes)
  • Relatives of the victims involved in Wednesday's train accident react at a victims information point in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. Relatives of victims from a train crash in northwestern Spain sobbed and hugged each other Thursday near a makeshift morgue in a sports arena for the victims as the death toll rose to 78 and investigators tried to determine the cause. The train jumped the tracks and at least one passenger told a radio station that it appeared to be going very fast as it went into a pronounced curve while approaching the station in this Catholic shrine city on the eve of a major religious festival. (AP Photo/ Salome Montes)
  • A firefighter uses and axe to open their way inside a train car at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on Thursday, July 25, 2013. An Associated Press analysis of video images shows that a Spanish train was traveling well above the speed limit when it derailed, killing at least 80 people. Officials say the speed limit on that section of track is 80 kph (50 mph). (AP Photo/Lalo Villar)

By all accounts, the train was going way too fast as it curled around a gentle bend. Then in an instant, one car tumbled off the track, followed by the rest of the locomotive, which seemed to come apart like a zipper being pulled.

The derailment sent pieces of the sleek train plowing across the ground in a ghastly jumble of smashed metal, dirt and smoke.

But a day after Spain suffered its deadliest rail disaster in decades – which killed 80 people and maimed scores of others – one question surpassed all others: Why was the train moving so fast?

Investigators opened a probe yesterday into possible failings by the 52-year-old driver and the train’s built-in speed-regulation systems.

Experts said one, or both, must be at fault for the disastrous Wednesday night crash of the train that was carrying 218 passengers and five crew members to Santiago de Compostela, a destination of Catholic pilgrimage preparing to celebrate its most revered saint.

Instead, the stunned city of nearly 100,000 converted its sports arena into a shelter for the dead and the grieving.

“All Spaniards feel the pain of the families,” said Spain’s head of state, King Juan Carlos, as he and Queen Sofia met hospitalized survivors of the crash 2.5 miles south of Santiago de Compostela. The royal couple dressed in funereal black.

“For a native of Santiago like me, this is the saddest day,” said Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who declared a national three-day mourning period.

The regional government of Galicia, in northwest Spain, said 94 people remained hospitalized, 31 of them in critical condition, including four children. The U.S. State Department said one American died and at least five others were hurt but cautioned that those figures could be revised upward.

Many victims suffered severe burns as the train’s diesel fuel ignited a fire that caught some passengers trapped in mangled upside-down carriages. Emergency officials took DNA samples from the most heavily burned or the unconscious in an effort to identify both the living and the dead.

Rafael Catala, a senior transport official in Spain’s Development Ministry, told radio network Cadena SER that the train appeared to be going much faster than the track’s speed limit of 50 mph as it approached the city.

Breathtaking footage of the crash captured by a railway security camera showed the moment when the eight-carriage train approached a left bend beneath a road bridge at a seemingly impossible speed. An Associated Press analysis of the video indicated the train hit the bend going twice the speed limit or more.

Legacy Comments1

The cause is pretty simple - trying to go around a curve that had a speed limit of 50 at 120 mph. That will pretty much guarantee an accident on any road or railroad. It is pretty amazing that the weight of the locomotives allowed them to make it around and some of the cars. In the video it is only one car that did not that derailed the entire train. Most high speed rail has automatic speed controls, but evidently Spain did not think that was important. Guess they learned that lesson the hard way. Save a few dollars by not installing the automatic controls, mix that with a Casey Jones who wants to make up a few minutes, and you get disaster.

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