Ex-safety chief pleads innocence in Spain train crash case

MADRID (AP) — The former head of safety for Spain’s state-owned rail infrastructure company told a court Thursday that he was not responsible for the 2013 train crash that killed 80 passengers and injured 145 more.

Andrés Cortabitarte and the train’s driver 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 (111 mph) on a stretch with an 80 kph (50 mph) limit as it was arriving to the northwest city of Santiago de Compostela.

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 tried to shift responsibility to the train line’s constructor, UTE, and Spain’s Ministry of Infrastructure, as well as the driver.

“The train driver has to know where he is going and how he will get there at every given moment,” Cortabitarte said according to Efe. “The rules say that the driver must not go faster than the maximum speed limit at any time. That must be obeyed.”

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.

Last week, the train’s driver, Francisco José Garzón Amo, 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.

ADIF, Spain’s state-owned rail infrastructure company, confirmed days after the July 24, 2013 tragedy that an automatic braking program was installed on most of the track leading from Madrid north to Santiago de Compostela but stopped 5 kilometers (3 miles) 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.

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