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Driver of Spanish train under police guard

An injured man, identified by Spanish newspapers El Pais and El Mundo as the train driver Garzon, is helped by a policeman after a train crashed near Santiago de Compostela

An injured train passenger being assisted.

MADRID — The driver of a Spanish train that derailed, killing at least 80 people, was under police guard in hospital today after the accident, which an official source said was caused by excessive speed.

The eight-carriage train came off the tracks, hit a wall and caught fire just outside the pilgrimage destination Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain on Wednesday night. It was one of Europe’s worst rail disasters.

The source had knowledge of the official investigation into a crash which brought misery to Santiago yesterday, the day when it should have celebrated one of Europe’s biggest Christian festivals.

A judge in Santiago de Compostela, capital of the northern Spanish region of Galicia, was assigned to investigate the accident. The judge ordered police to question the train’s driver, named as 52-year-old Francisco Jose Garzon.

It was not clear what kind of injuries the driver had suffered. He was not arrested, but he was under a police guard at the hospital and was expected to be questioned on Friday.

State train company Renfe said the driver was a 30-year veteran of the firm with more than a decade of train driving experience. He had been driving trains on this line for about a year, the firm said.

The regional government said 95 people were still in hospital, 32 of them, including four children, in a serious condition. Medical experts were still trying to identify 13 of the bodies early on Friday, leaving distraught families to wait for definitive news.

With the festivities in Santiago cancelled yesterday, hundreds of people went to the site of the wreck instead, where they watched cranes picking the mangled train carriages off the tracks.

“My brother-in-law lives close by and was helping pull out people, dead and alive, all night. He’s very shaken. I’ve come now with some friends just to see how it all ends,” said Manuel Garcia, one of the onlookers.

Video footage from a security camera showed the train, with 247 people on board, hurtling into a concrete wall at the side of the track as carriages jack-knifed and the engine overturned. (Reuters)

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