A serious forgetfulness of on the part of a train conductor is believed to be the cause of the head-on crash between two trains Monday evening, in Santa Rosa de Santo Domingo de Heredia, which left 100 people injured.
According to preliminary investigation, Elizabeth Briceño, executive president of the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles (Incofer) – Costa Rican railway – the data obtained from reviewing the geolocation system (GPS) of the trains on the single track, indicate the conductor in the stopped train in the siding track was to have let two trains in the opposite direction pass before moving, but he resumed after one only train.
The serious mistake resulted in his train crashing head-on into the second train he had had to have waited for.
“What we can see in the GPS is that the train departs, passes a train and far from waiting for the second train to pass, it rejoins the track and that is where the frontal accident occurs,” explained the Incofer president.
The crash occurred some 500 meters from the siding line, a section of track next to the main line to allow a train to temporarily stop while allowing other trains a clear path. At this point in the rail line, there is a curve, with a slight descent in the San Jose-Heredia direction, noted the official.
Each train was made up of two cars, at the time each car carrying up to 100 passengers, according to the Incofer.
The Incofer commuter trains are not high-speed trains, typically traveling under 40 km/h. In the case Monday, both trains were traveling at 23 km/h. In the Pavas train crash on April 8, 2016, one of the trains was going 32 km/h and the other 36 km/h.
Had the trains on Monday been going faster the number of injured and scope of the injuries would have been greater, maybe even fatalities.
According to the first responders, the Bomberos (Fire Department), Cruz Roja (Red Cross) and the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), a total of 100 people were treated, of those 78 were sent to hospital and the remaining 22 assessed on site.
The CCSS sais that all the injured had left the hospital by Tuesday morning.
Briceño explained that the legal department of the Incofer is investigating at depth the speed limits and travel journals of the routes and are interviewing the conductors, engineers, assistants (called brequeros or ‘brakers‘) and controllers. Finally, in the conclusions stage, recommendations are expected to avoid similar events.
The Incofer executive added that she has asked Centenaria, the concessionaire of the operation of the trains, to suspend for 15 days the two conductors, identified by their last names Arias Cordero and Castillo Ramirez, involved in Monday’s crash.
The suspension, according to Briceño, is to ensure that the investigation is transparent.
Briceño added that the two conductors are “experienced machinists and long-term with the system.”
Parallel to the Incofer, the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ) in conjuction with the Fiscalía Adjunta de Heredia (Deputy Prosecutor’s Office of Heredia), initiated a judicial investigation.
Juan Pablo Calvo, head of the OIJ Heredia, confirmed that on the same day Monday they began the investigations with the process of gathering evidence. On Tuesday, a specialized team with specialized equipment raised a third-dimensional model of the crash site, to then create a simulation and accurately locate the exact point of the collision, the sidings, the points of visibility and the magnitude of the damage caused.
“We are collecting all the evidence, both testimonial and objective evidence for the case.” Preliminarily, what we have up to now is that it points to human error, not the equipment itself,” explained Calvo.
Meanwhile, the Prosecutor’s Office confirmed it had opened a case for the crime of “lesiones culposas” (wilful injuries) against conductors Arias Cordero, who was at the helm of unit 2459, traveling in the Heredia-San José direction; and Castillo Ramírez, of train 6010, who was moving in the opposite direction. “
Both the Fiscalia and OIJ made it known that if any of people affected wish to file a criminal complaint, they can go to any office of the Fiscalia or the OIJ.
The Incofer reported that on Tuesday the railway line was properly conditioned at the crash site.
Briceño said that train service will resume today, Wednesday, with limited service.
“We have to take into account that two machines went out of service, which means normal daily service can not be provided (…) affecting services on the Heredia, Alajuela and Belén,” she added.
The official explained that the service will be reduced by 3,000 passengers daily.
What comes next for the affected?
The affected can file a claim for damages, but the process is slow, very slow.
The process of recovering from the injuries will be much quicker than the process of recovering damages by way of the Judicial process against the Incofer.
For example, 41 people affected by the crash of April last year, who filed a case against the Incofer are still awaiting the result of the “peritaje” (damage assessment) to calculates the damage and the economic value.
In contrast to the judicial process, the process of filing a claim for medical attention and even payment of compensation from the Instituto Nacional de Seguros (INS) – the State insurer – is simpler.
Passengers affected have the right to make a claim on the INS liability policy carried by the Incofer.
On Tuesday, the INS confirmed 59 people had already filed claims for medical attention for facial and scalp wounds, chest trauma, clavicle fracture and fracture of the elbow, among the other claims.