Spain reviews speed limits throughout rail network

Madrid, Aug 9 (EFE).- Development Minister Ana Pastor said Friday her department was "conducting a general review" of speed limits throughout Spain's rail network with a view to improving safety conditions.

Pastor appeared before the lower house of Parliament two weeks after a high-speed train went off the rails on July 24 near the northwestern city of Santiago de Compostela, killing 79 people.

The minister, who oversees Spain's railways, told lawmakers a review also was being carried out of the "protocols and systems" of "the entire rail network in the wake of the accident."

The review of speed limits is the first action taken since Pastor ordered an audit of her portfolio the day after the derailment to ensure the Spanish rail network's safety and regulatory compliance.

Referring to possible steps to improve safety, the minister mentioned the installment of warning lights along stretches of track with "significant" reductions in speed and the development of a satellite signaling system.

She also said her department was considering stricter hiring requirements and medical and psychological examinations for engine drivers, as well as ways to better monitor their activity while on the job.

The high-speed passenger train went off the tracks along the route linking Madrid and the Atlantic coastal city of Ferrol, killing 79 people and injuring 150 others.

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

The driver, who has been released without bail pending trial, told investigators that he managed to hit the brakes but it was too late.

Garzon acknowledged in his testimony on July 28 that the accident was not caused by mechanical problems or the condition of the train, and he blamed "human error" for the deadly derailment.