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Conductor In Deadly Spanish Train Crash Was On Phone, Court Says

NPR icon by Bill Chappell
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Rafa Rivas

The driver of a Spanish train that derailed and killed 79 people was speaking on the phone and had taken the train to nearly twice the speed allowed on the stretch of track where the crash occurred, according to court investigators who reviewed the train's "black box" recorders.

After reaching speeds of 119 mph, train conductor Francisco Jose Garzon Amo tried to slow the train down "seconds before the crash," according to an Associated Press report on the court's preliminary findings, which were released Tuesday.

Amo was speaking on the phone with staff members of the state rail service Renfe, the BBC reports.

The speed limit in the area of the crash is around 50 mph (80 kph); investigators say they believe the train was going around 95 mph when it derailed.

The crash occurred Wednesday near the city of Santiago de Compostela. Amo faces dozens of charges of homicide and causing injury by professional neglect; those charges were announced Sunday.

The train had been carrying more than 200 people in northwestern Spain when it derailed. A mass was held to memorialize those who lost their lives in the crash Monday. As NPR's Lauren Frayer reported from Madrid yesterday, more than 70 people remain in the hospital, some of them in critical condition.

The train was a kind of hybrid that can run on either new high-speed rails, where they are known to reach speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour, or on older tracks. As Lauren says, the portion of track where the crash occurred did not have newer safety systems that can override drivers' actions.

The investigation into the crash is still ongoing, officials say.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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