A high-speed train that derailed on a curve Wednesday night in northwestern Spain, and that has killed at least 78 passengers and injured 141 others, may have been traveling at more than twice the speed limit, Spanish media reported Thursday.
Spain’s El Pais newspaper said that it was told by the operator of the train that it was going 190km/h on the stretch of track that has a limit of 80km/h. Another Spanish newspaper, El Mundo, also reported that the train may have approached speeds of up to 190 km/h. But neither report has been confirmed and Spain’s national rail operator has not commented on the allegation.
However, the Reuters news agency reported that the driver of the derailed train has now been put under formal investigation, adding to the suggestion that the driver’s actions may have had some role in the accident.
El Pais reported that the death toll in Spain’s worst train disaster in decades has now risen to at least 78, with scores more reported injured. Spanish officials appeared to confirm the numbers.
Officials said initially that the crash, which occurred on the eve of a local Christian festival, appeared to be an accident, not terrorism. In 2004, Islamists blew up trains in Madrid, killing 191 and wounding hundreds.
The express train, carrying 218 people between Madrid and Ferrol, left the tracks at 8:42 p.m. (2:42 p.m. ET) about two miles from the station at Santiago de Compostela, in the Galician region, said the government-owned railway, Renfe. The number of crewmembers was not released.
All 13 carriages derailed, and four overturned. TV images showed one car torn apart, another on fire and blanket-covered bodies beside the ruined carriages.
The train company said Thursday that there does not appear to have been a technical fault with the train.
“A lot of people were squashed on the bottom. We tried to squeeze out of the bottom of the wagons to get out and we realized the train was burning,” passenger Ricardo Montesco told radio station Cadena SER. “I was in the second wagon and there was fire. I saw corpses.”
“There are bodies lying on the railway track. It’s a Dante-esque scene,” Nunez told SER, the AFP news agency reported.
Nunez said it was too soon to say what caused the accident.
The Associated Press reported that a spokeswoman with Spain’s Interior Ministry said Thursday that the possibility that the derailment was caused by a terrorist attack had been ruled out. She spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ministry policy.
Photographer Xabier Martinez told the AP that two injured passengers told him they felt a strong vibration before the train jumped the track.
A witness told Cadena SER she heard a loud explosion just before the train derailed, Reuters reported. That claim has not been confirmed.
Festivities were planned Thursday in Santiago de Compostela to celebrate St James, one of Jesus’s 12 apostles whose remains are claimed to buried there. Officials said many of the travelers likely were pilgrims headed to the city, about 60 miles south of Ferrol. Officials canceled the festivities.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Brey, who was born in Santiago de Compostola, convened an emergency ministerial meeting late Wednesday. He visited the accident scene Thursday and declared three days of official mourning.
Earlier he tweeted: “I want to express my affection and solidarity with the victims of the terrible train accident in Santiago.
“Two weeks ago in France, six people died when several cars of a train packed ahead of the Bastille Day holiday in a station outside Paris. Officials blamed a faulty track.
A statement from the U.S. embassy in Madrid said some Americans were injured in the crash in Galicia. The statement did not provide any further detail.