What Caused Spain's Deadly Subway Crash?

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The Pope surely expected a different welcome when he made plans to visit Valencia this coming Saturday. Instead of a vibrant and festive city, when he arrives for the World Family Forum in the Mediterranean city he will find a town enveloped in mourning.

On Monday, barely past 1 p.m., Valencia's Line 1 subway train derailed right under the city's downtown, crashed against the inside walls, and slid outside the tracks for 100 meters before coming to a deadly halt. Inside, 41 people lay dead. According to the train's black box, the convoy entered the curve that leads to the Jesus station at 80 km/h, double the speed limit. The regional transportation minister, José Ramón García Antón said that "the machinist must have suffered some sort of unconsciousness or problem," adhering to the official line that only human factor was to blame. "Line 1 has all the safety measures established by the protocol required for this type of subway lines," he added.

Although this may well be the case, many residents of Valencia think that more could have been done to prevent the tragedy. A lot more. As recently as October 2005 there was another derailment in the same line, but the safety system was not changed. "There are track sections that are ready to be replaced, but we haven't been able to do it because there is not enough material," says Diego Trigo, a machinist and member of the Sindicato Ferroviario (Railroad Trade Union) and member of Valencia Railways' Safety Committee. "Regarding upkeep and maintenance, there is definitely a considerable lack of prevision." Other views are more drastic: "We warned the company this was going to happen," said Antonio Ayala, a machinist with 25 years of experience guiding trains.

The pain is still fresh in this usually bright city, and there is some hesitation to squarely blame authorities for not investing enough in basic infrastructures used primarily by working class people—like the subway—while the city spends handsomely in eye-catching projects like next year's yachting America's Cup, a state of the art cultural and science theme park, or the papal visit. "I've been driving [trains] over that section for 19 years," Trigo, the union member, told TIME, "and nothing like this had ever happened before." The regional government says, and the unions acknowledge, that 129 million euros have been invested in the last few years on that line, the oldest in Valencia's subway. But apparently that money was not spent on upgrading the safety system on Line 1. "Had there been autobreak-signals installed in that track section—or a more modern safety system—the accident would have been much less damaging or would not have happened at all," says Trigo. "But, you know, investments follow a calendar. And unfortunately, they didn't get here fast enough."