The former head of safety for Spain’s state-owned rail infrastructure company, ADIF, told a court on Thursday that he was not responsible for the 2013 train crash that killed 80 passengers and injured over 140 more. He blamed the train driver instead.
Andrés Cortabitarte and the train driver, Francisco Garzón, are both facing four-year prison terms if found guilty of professional negligence for the derailment. The train went off the tracks while speeding at 179 kph on a stretch with an 80 kph limit as it was arriving to the northwest city of Santiago de Compostela in 2013. ALSO READ: Spain starts trial of 2013 train crash in Galicia that killed 80 and injured over 140
Spanish news agency EFE reported that Cortabitarte told the court that it was not his job to evaluate the risks of the track where the tragedy took place.
Cortabitarte had been originally scheduled to testify last week but his appearance was pushed back after he was hit by the relative of one of the train wreck’s victims outside the courthouse.
On Thursday, Cortabitarte told the court the track where the accident happened was ‘100% safe’.
‘If it had not been, it would not have been put into service,’ he said as he took the stand for the first time. The accident happened because the driver did not respect the speed limit, he added.
‘He was the one who had to control [the speed], but he did not,’ Cortabitarte said.
He also recalled that the driver had ended a phone call with the on-board conductor just moments before the train lurched off the rails.
‘That’s unthinkable … you can’t do that,’ he said.
Last week, the train’s driver Garzón wept while testifying that he had braked but could not avoid the crash. He added that there had been no signals warning him to reduce speed before the curve where the crash occurred.
Garzón had also acknowledged that he was distracted by the phone call but that he was obliged to take a call from the conductor, and also said the track should have had signals warning him to reduce speed before the curve.
ADIF, Spain’s state-owned rail infrastructure company, confirmed days after the 24 July 2013 tragedy that an automatic braking programme was installed on most of the track leading from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela, but stopped 5 km south of the accident site.
A group representing victims of the crash, the Alvia 04155 Victims Platform, has said that it hoped the trial would show that ADIF bore more responsibility for the derailment than the driver.
The trial, which started last week, is expected to last several months and hear from some 650 witnesses.