CNN and other news networks have been airing dramatic clips of the train crash in Spain that killed 80 people on Wednesday over and over again this week. And if it weren’t for the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal, the coverage might be even more intense. We’ll learn more about the cause of the crash in the weeks and months to come as the investigation unfolds, but based on what we know now, how will the crash impact the public’s perception of train travel safety?
According to press reports, the train driver, Francisco José Garzón Amo, now reportedly in police custody, was driving twice as fast as he should have been on the section of track where the crash occurred. He posted messages on Facebook last year boasting about driving trains some 200 kilometers per hour and reportedly told rescue workers, ‘I’ve f***ed it up. I want to die.” All this points to the conclusion that this is a case of driver error rather than a structural issue with Spain’s high-speed trains. And statistics indicate that Spain’s rail safety record is better than the European average. But will these facts be enough to reassure nervous travelers?Train travel is my favorite mode of transport. For me, a day spent on a pleasant train ride is infinitely more pleasant than a day spent on an airplane or a bus. I’m traveling to Spain over the Labor Day weekend, and just as the crash transpired on Wednesday, I was actually looking into schedules and tickets for a planned train trip from Barcelona to San Sebastian. But I have to admit; watching the footage of the train crash scared the hell out of me and I have yet to buy the ticket, though I probably will.
There is a risk every time you attempt to go anywhere- by car, foot, boat, train, plane, or donkey. Crashes will happen but it’s somewhat rare to see such dramatic footage like this one. I think the crash will have only a short-term negative effect on the rail industry because most travelers are aware of the risks and the fact that all pilots and drivers can make mistakes.
But let’s hope that something positive comes from this disaster so that something like this never happens again. Spain has invested heavily in developing its high-speed train network, but now it needs to implement a system where drivers are being monitored more closely. Authorities can’t track every comment a driver makes on Facebook, but surely there is a way to flag drivers who have been guilty of driving too fast and removing them before they have a chance to cause harm.