BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A speeding commuter train slammed into another that had stopped between stations during the morning commute Thursday in suburban Buenos Aires, killing three passengers and injuring more than 300 on a line that has been under government control since a deadly crash last year.
The state-run train agency dismissed possible brake failure as a cause and suggested that the conductor was at fault.
Satellite images show the train had braked normally at the previous station, and then rolled past four functioning warning signals without stopping before the crash, the agency said. "Before a warning signal, the conductor should completely stop the formation, a situation that did not happen."
Instead, the train accelerated continually from the moment it left the previous station, reaching a speed of 38.5 mph (62 kph) on impact, Transportation Minister Florencio Randazzo said. That's three times faster than the speed on impact of the train that crunched into the downtown Once station on the same line in 2012, killing 51 passengers and injuring more than 700.
The conductors and their assistants on both of the trains involved in Thursday's crash were ordered detained by a judge for investigation on charges of "wreaking havoc followed by death," the state news agency Telam reported.
Randazzo asked for patience and vowed that those found responsible will be punished. He also said that the train workers passed alcohol breathalyzer tests before their shifts, a safety measure the government imposed after the previous crash.
"I feel a little bit of rage, and impotence, because we've been putting in everything, very many economic and human resources. And that things like this happen, it hurts all of us," President Cristina Fernandez said Thursday night, referring to the crash briefly during a speech about housing subsidies. She avoided calling it an "accident" or a "tragedy," referring to the crash only as "what happened this morning."
"I don't want to name it, and will let the justice system say what happened," she said.
Argentina's independent auditor general, Leandro Despouy, who delivered a blistering report on the causes of last year's crash, suggested that the problems are systemic, due to many years of mismanagement, corruption and disrepair.
"We've been warning that this tragedy could happen again," Despouy told Radio de la Red. "Today it's a courageous move to travel by train."
The train slammed into the back of another at 7:07 a.m. between the stations of Moron and Castelar on the Sarmiento line, which links the Argentine capital's densely populated western suburbs to the downtown Once station.
Witnesses described the impact as "explosive," shaking the walls of nearby homes and derailing several of the train cars.
Some passengers were able to stumble out of the wreckage and walk along the tracks in the pre-dawn darkness, while many others waited for rescue workers to pull them out.