Train driver Francisco Jose Garzon (right) is helped by two men after his train crashed

Spanish train driver to be tried for reckless homicide

The driver of a Spanish train that derailed and killed 79 people has been released pending trial on charges of reckless homicide.

Francisco Garzon, 52, had been under arrest since Thursday. He is suspected of driving the train too fast through a tight curve on the outskirts of the northwestern Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela.

Examining Magistrate Luis Alaez formally charged Garzon with "79 counts of homicide and numerous offences of bodily harm, all of them committed through professional recklessness," the court said in a statement.

In a closed-door hearing last night before Judge Alaez, Garzon admitted taking the curve too fast, blaming it on a momentary lapse, according to media reports.

Alaez has been assigned to investigate the case and will also look at whether the train, the tracks or the security system that slows down the trains were at fault, though the crash is believed to be down to human error.

The Alvia train involved in the accident, one of three types of high-speed train services that run in Spain, received a full maintenance check on the morning of the journey, the head of Renfe said, and security systems were in good shape.

"As far as we know, the train was in perfect condition when it set off on its journey," Renfe President Julio Gomez-Pomar told newspaper ABC.

The Alvia trains run both on traditional tracks, where drivers must heed warning systems to reduce speed, and on high-speed tracks where a more sophisticated security system will automatically slow down trains that are going too fast.

At the section of the track where the accident happened, it was up to the driver to respond to prompts to slow down. Gomez-Pomar rejected criticism that the safety system was insufficient, saying the debate "does not make much sense".

Garzon, who has worked for Renfe for 30 years and for 10 as a driver, was hospitalised with a head injury. On Saturday he was released from the hospital but remained in police custody until he was taken to the hearing at Santiago de Compostela's main courthouse.

Neither lawyers nor members of Garzon's family could be reached for comment.

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