A report prepared by the European Railway Agency for the European Commission has slammed the lack of independence and rigour of the Spanish investigation into the 2013 Santiago de Compostela train crash in which 81 people lost their lives and 150 others were injured.
The report, a copy of which has been obtained by The Spain Report, outlines numerous weaknesses in the Spanish investigation and concludes that a new inquiry must now be opened.
The ERA says "national investigation bodies" are supposed to "establish exactly what, how and why the accident happened" in an independent manner in order to learn lessons and prevent similar accidents in the future. In Spain, that national investigation body is the Railway Accident Investigation Commission (CIAF).
"The requirement that the CIAF shall be independent from any infrastructure manager [Adif, Renfe], railway undertaking 'and from any party whose interests could conflict with the tasks entrusted to the investigation body' was not ensured", says the report: "Therefore the investigation did not comply with requirements in articles 21.1 and 21.2 of the Railway Safety Directive".
Jesús Domínguez, chairman of the Alvia victims' association, told The Spain Report that "it confirms that the sole cause is not human error and that the root causes of the accident still need to be investigated".
"It makes clear that the minister lied to us during the meeting we had with her personally about the independence of the investigation and compliance with railway safety regulations. We wonder if she will be able to sleep soundly now".
The Spanish investigation was guilty of placing all the blame on the train driver, Francisco José Garzón Amo, and failed to investigate the root causes of the crash, says the ERA report.
"The emphasis of the CIAF report is put on the direct cause (one human error) and on the driver's (non-) compliance with rules, rather on the underlying and root causes. Those causes are not reported as part of the conclusions of the report and typically are the most likely to include the organisational actions of Adif and Renfe."
Adif is the rail track operator in Spain, responsible for the infrastructure, lines and safety systems, and Renfe is the train operator.
"The report focuses mainly on the derailment itself; the subsequent collision and fire and their impact are not sufficiently described, critically analysed and no conclusions are arrived at in the report."
The ERA says Spain did not sufficiently analyse how the design of the line or the train might have impacted the crash, and effectively made up the safety recommendations without due attention to facts and proof.
"The proposed safety recommendations seem to arise from the topics discussed and not from a well-understood and established causation chain leading to evidence based conclusions."
"There is neither description, nor evidence on whether, when and how the victims and their relatives were informed during the investigation process and given the opportunity as far as possible to give comments."
The report, which was prepared by the European Rail Agency at the request of the European Commission on October 26, 2015, is not legally binding.
Ana Miranda, spokeswoman for the BNG (Galician Nationalist Block), whose efforts helped to secure the publication of the European report, told The Spain Report from Brussels that Thursday's meeting and the conclusions of the report were a victory for crash victims and their families.
"They have been working hard for three years to get this far", she said: "they were shocked in Europe when we told them in November about the way the accident investigation had been organised in Spain by CIAF".
"Spain has not complied with rail safety regulations because there was no independent investigation."
"It was a very positive meeting, very objective, and very emotional for the victims who were present", she added.
Ms. Miranda said her group would now be demanding a new foreign-led investigation into the 2013 crash, given the Spanish failings.
Spain's Public Works Ministry issued a three-page statement rejecting the European report late on Thursday evening, defending its independence and quality control and alleging that the ERA did not object to the Spanish report presented in July 2014.
"The CIAF has communicated to the ERA its disconformity with the content of its report and has sent replies to each and every one of the appreciations contained in the document."
"The supposed lack of depth in the report with regard to deep or co-causal elements or circumstances is not considered to be justified, as the CIAF investigation covered all of those aspects, including those considered relevant to the aims of the investigation in its report."
CORRECTION: The chairman of the Alvia victims' association is Jesús Domínguez, not Jesús Fernández, as originally appeared. Our apologies to Mr. Domínguez.