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Train driver ‘was on the phone’

Madrid - The driver of the train that derailed in Santiago de Compostela, north-western Spain, last week, killing 79 people, was talking on the phone with state train operator Renfe at the time of the accident, a court said on Tuesday after analysing the train's data recording devices.

The initial reading of the so-called black boxes said driver Francisco Garzon received a call from Renfe minutes before the accident to discuss the path to Ferrol, the final destination for the high-speed train that departed from Madrid on Wednesday with 218 passengers aboard.

Two men look down at the wreckage of a train in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Credit: Associated Press

The court investigating the case said that by the conversation and background noise picked up on the black boxes, the driver appeared to be consulting a map or some kind of paper document while on the phone with Renfe staff.

The train was travelling at 192km/h in the minutes before it derailed in a curve where speed is limited at 80km/h, according to the two black boxes, which are actually orange in colour and located at the front and the back of the train.

The eight-carriage train slowed to 153km/h at the time of the crash after a brake was activated seconds before.

Garzon, 52, admitted in a closed-door hearing to taking the curve too fast, blaming it on a momentary lapse, according to media reports.

He has been charged with negligent homicide by Investigating Magistrate Luis Alaez, who is also probing whether the train, the tracks or the security system that slow down the trains may also have been at fault.

Sixty-six injured people remained in hospital on Tuesday, with 15 in critical condition. - Reuters

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