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Driver on phone to HQ just before Spanish train crash

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Jul 30 (EFE).- The driver facing charges for last week's deadly train crash in northwestern Spain was on the telephone to railway management shortly before the accident, a court said Tuesday, citing data from the train's black boxes.

The high-speed Alvia train from Madrid derailed on July 24 outside Santiago de Compostela, killing 79 people and injuring more than 150 others.

The train was moving at 192 kph (119 mph) during the driver's phone conversation with supervisors at state railway Renfe, the Galician regional Superior Court said Tuesday.

An application of the brakes slowed the train's speed to 153 kph (95 mph) by the time of the derailment at a station on the outskirts of this city, according to still-provisional estimates based on an examination of the black boxes.

Renfe supervisors telephoned driver Francisco Jose Garzon to give him instructions regarding the route from Santiago de Compostela to the train's final destination, the Atlantic coastal city of Ferrol.

Judging by the content of the conversation and background noise heard on the recording, it appears Garzon was consulting a "map or similar paper document," the court said in a statement.

Earlier Tuesday, Spanish Development Minister Ana Pastor on Tuesday requested permission to appear before an extraordinary session of the lower house of Parliament to brief lawmakers about her ministry's actions in the wake of the train disaster.

The ministry said in a statement that similar requests have been made by the presidents of two companies it oversees, Julio Gomez-Pomar of the Renfe and Gonzalo Ferrer of Spanish railway operator Adif.

The signals on the stretch where the accident occurred were operating properly at the time of the derailment and the train had been inspected earlier that day, Adif said.

Driver Garzon told investigating Judge Luis Alaez that he lost track of his position and did not know where he was on the evening the accident occurred, sources close to the investigation told Efe.

Garzon, who has been charged with 79 counts of homicide and numerous other crimes, admitted that he was going at double the 80 kph (49 mph) speed limit on the curve in A Grandeira.

The driver told investigators that he "managed to" hit the brakes but it was too late.

Garzon acknowledged in his testimony Sunday that the accident was not caused by mechanical problems or the condition of the train, and he blamed "human error" for the deadly derailment.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/agencia-efe/130730/driver-phone-hq-just-spanish-train-crash