Speeding train runs over people heading to beach party in Spain, killing 12

By Joseph Wilson, AP
Thursday, June 24, 2010

12 killed as train hits beachgoers in Spain

CASTELLDEFELS, Spain — A train speeding through a seaside rail station plowed into a group of youths taking a shortcut across the tracks to get to a beach party, killing at least 12 and injuring 14, Spanish officials said Thursday.

It was Spain’s deadliest train accident since 2003, when 19 people died in a collision between passenger and freight trains in the southeastern town of Chinchilla.

The youths got off a commuter train in the beach resort of Castelldefels outside Barcelona shortly before midnight Wednesday for the party welcoming the start of summer. About 30 climbed down off the platform and tried to scurry across the tracks instead of using an underpass to leave the station, witnesses said.

Seconds later, a long-distance train that was not scheduled to stop at the station barreled into the youths at high speed, its whistle shrieking.

Marcelo Cardona, who was on the commuter train, said the victims had been looking forward to dancing around a bonfire on the Mediterranean shore.

“The euphoria of getting off the train immediately became screams. There were people screaming, ‘my daughter! my sister!’” said Cardona, a 34-year-old Bolivian.

The newspaper El Pais said, without citing sources, that except for one 45-year-old woman, the dead and injured were between the ages of 17 and 26.

Cardona said he saw “mutilated people, blood everywhere, blood on the platform.”

Felipe Elmaji, a 29-year-old Moroccan who was traveling with Cardona, said he heard a “thump, thump of the train hitting people.”

Cardona’s sister Candy recalled the shrill, piercing sound of the train’s whistle as it tried to warn people to get out of the way. “It was horrible. I can’t get that sound out of my head,” she said.

Marcelo Cardona said his party had waited on the platform to let a large crowd work its way through the underpass leading out of the station.

Mayor Joan Sau said, “If the underpass had been used, we would probably not be talking about this tragedy right now.”

Sau said there also is a pedestrian walkway over the tracks, but it was closed because it was replaced by the underpass when the station was remodeled late last year.

The final toll was 12 dead and 14 injured, said Nacho Solano, a spokesman for the Catalonia regional government’s civil protection department. Three of the injured are in critical condition.

The beach festival was part of a yearly, nationwide ritual always held around the time of the summer solstice. It is called Noche de San Juan, or night of St. John.

It is celebrated in much of Spain but with particular zeal in Catalonia. People light bonfires in town squares and on beaches, dancing around them and even jumping over them, and set off fireworks.

“Last night, Noche de San Juan, which is normally a night of festivity in Catalonia, turned tragic,” the Catalan regional president, Jose Montilla, said Thursday morning as he visited the scene of the carnage.

He declared a day of mourning throughout the wealthy and powerful Catalan region. Flags flew at half-mast at town hall in Castelldefels. Crews hosed down the bloodied train tracks.

Enrique Sosa, a chef who works near the train station, said he rushed there after hearing about the accident and helped wash off a 16-year-old boy who was covered in blood and perhaps other people’s flesh.

“He was shaking,” said Sosa, a 37-year-old Uruguayan.

Sosa said he then lent the boy his cell phone so he could call home.

Associated Press Writer Daniel Woolls contributed to this report from Madrid.

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