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Human error cited in Spain train crash

MADRID -- The driver in a deadly railroad crash was on the phone with a colleague and apparently looking at a document as his train barreled ahead at 95 mph -- almost twice the speed limit -- investigators said Tuesday.

He hit the brakes too late as the train approached a notorious curve. The train, carrying 218 passengers in eight carriages, hurtled off the tracks and slammed into a concrete wall, killing 79 people.

Investigators looking into the crash said their preliminary findings from the train's data-recording "black boxes" suggest that human error appears to be the cause of Spain's worst railway disaster in decades.

The derailment occurred near Santiago de Compostela, a city in northwestern Spain, late last Wednesday. About 66 people injured in the crash are still hospitalized, 15 of them in critical condition.

According to the investigation so far, train driver Francisco Jose Garzon Amo received a call from an official of national rail company Renfe on his work phone, not his personal cellphone, to tell him what approach to take toward his final destination.

"From the contents of the conversation and from the background noise it seems that the driver [was] consulting a plan or similar paper document," said a statement from a court where the investigation is based.

Authorities have said that a high-tech automatic braking program was installed on most of the high-speed track leading from Madrid north to Santiago de Compostela -- the route Garzon's train took. But its coverage stops just three miles south of where the crash occurred, placing a greater burden on the driver.

Garzon was provisionally charged Sunday with multiple counts of negligent homicide.

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