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Victims blamed in deadly Spanish train crash

A train speeding through a rail station plowed into a group of youths taking a shortcut across the tracks to get to a beach party, killing at least 12, Spanish officials said.
Image: Police collect the bodies of crash victims at train station near Barcelona
Officials gather at the Castelldefels Playa station, south of Barcelona, where a high-speed train struck a group of people on Wednesday.Gustau Nacarino / Reuters
/ Source: news services

Spanish officials blamed summer solstice partygoers for crossing the tracks into the path of an express train that killed at least 13, but others said a new underground exit was poorly marked and an old crossing was blocked off, leaving travelers confused.

In addition to the dead, at least 14 were injured in the beach resort of Castelldefels, south of Barcelona, shortly before midnight Wednesday as crowds of young people left a train heading for bonfires on a Mediterranean beach. Many jammed the underpass leading to the beach, but about 30 others climbed down from the platform and tried to scurry across the tracks.

They were struck and mangled by a train barreling through the station in northeastern Spain.

Development Minister Jose Blanco on Thursday denied claims the underpass was poorly marked, and insisted that passengers should have known that "you never, never, never cross the tracks."

"Everything pointed to negligence," Blanco added, saying he hoped the tragedy would make riders understand that they must obey station rules.

But Arrellano Ruiz, the Ecuadorean consul in Barcelona, said passengers did not see the signs for the underpass exit and mistakenly headed to an overpass that had been closed since a 2009 renovation.

Euphoria'Marcelo Cardona, who was on the commuter train, said the victims had been looking forward to dancing around a bonfire on the beach.

"The euphoria of getting off the train immediately became screams. There were people screaming, 'my daughter! my sister!'" said Cardona, a 34-year-old Bolivian.

One youth who managed to cross the track told SER radio that a group of them had got off a train, which then left the station.

"At that moment a train came from the other direction and ran everyone over," said the youth, who gave his name only as Fernando.

Cardona said he saw "mutilated people, blood everywhere, blood on the platform."

Felipe Elmaji, a 29-year-old Moroccan who was traveling with Cardona, said he heard a "thump, thump of the train hitting people."

Cardona's sister Candy recalled the shrill, piercing sound of the train's whistle as it tried to warn people to get out of the way. "It was horrible. I can't get that sound out of my head," she said.

Most of the victims were Latin American immigrants, said Andres Cuantero, head of a team of psychologists sent to counsel grieving relatives.

As the investigation got under way Thursday, the chairman of the state railway company RENFE, Teofilo Serrano, said he was "almost certain" the long-distance train was not exceeding the speed limit as it traveled through the station. He said he did not know how fast it was going.

The Spanish news agency Europa Press quoted unnamed RENFE officials as saying the train was going 87 miles per hour and the driver tested negative for alcohol and was in shock. RENFE refused to confirm or deny the report.

Recklessness or confusion?Mayor Joan Sau blamed recklessness for the deaths.

"If the underpass had been used, we would probably not be talking about this tragedy right now," he said.

Sau said there is also a pedestrian walkway over the tracks but it was closed because it was replaced by the underpass when the station was remodeled late last year.

But Ruiz said some in the group may have been confused after getting off the commuter train because they did not see signs indicating how to reach the underground passageway. They came across an overpass, but it was blocked off, Ruiz said.

Spanish officials said the station was remodeled last year and has clear signs showing passengers where to exit.

"It had a sign system that was well-made and it had a loudspeaker service that pointed out that the tracks must not be crossed," said Victor Morlan, Spain's secretary for infrastructure.

Catalan regional Interior Minister Joan Saura said the identification of the mutilated bodies "will not be easy and it will not be fast."

Except for one woman in her 40s, all of the injured were 19 or younger and two are minors, said Marta Joves, spokeswoman for the Catalonia government's civil protection department. Of the 14 injured, one is in extremely critical condition, two are in critical condition and four have been treated and released, she said.

The Catalan regional president, Jose Montilla, said declared a day of mourning as he visited the accident scene Thursday. Flags flew at half-mast at the town hall in Castelldefels and rail crews hosed down the bloodied train tracks. Spanish King Juan Carlos also canceled the annual celebration held in honor of his Saint's day.

Enrique Sosa, a chef who works near the train station, said he rushed to the scene and helped wash off a 16-year-old boy covered in other people's blood.

"He was shaking," said Sosa, a 37-year-old Uruguayan.

Sosa then lent the boy his cell phone so he could call home.