ARGENTINES TRADED BLAME yesterday for a bus and train collision that killed 11 people and injured more than 200 at a railroad crossing the day before.
A brief clip from a police security video that was initially released after Tuesday’s crash shows the bus driver clearly ignoring flashing lights and a ringing bell as he maneuvers around a partially lowered wooden barrier that automatically drops when trains are nearby. But a longer view of the same police video shows a series of problems preceded the tragedy.
The recording shows a garbage truck breaking the end of the wooden, red-and-white painted barrier hours before Tuesday’s pre-dawn crash. It then shows a security guard waving drivers across despite warning signals. That guard was hired by a contractor whose overnight repair work on the nearby rails can falsely activate the signals, Trains of Buenos Aires spokesman Gustavo Gago explained Wednesday in an interview with the Todo Noticias channel.
The video also shows that the security guard left just minutes before the 6:23 a.m. (0923 GMT) accident, and that someone had stuck a pole under the barrier to keep it from lowering completely and blocking traffic. It then shows a flow of traffic driving under the partially lowered barrier moments before the bus driver gambled that he could make it across as well.
“We need to see how we can put transit police (in the railroad crossings) and issue fines, because they never fine drivers whose vehicles cross under lowered barriers,” Gago complained.
Gago said police should have promptly warned the TBA when their security cameras captured the garbage truck breaking the barrier earlier Tuesday morning. He said whoever it was who stuck a pole under the barrier should be prosecuted. And he said bus drivers have no excuses for ignoring flashing lights and a ringing bell.
“The physical signal of the barrier has only ONE position that makes it safe to cross: with the arm pointed straight up and the signals off,” Gago tweeted.
Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri praised emergency responders for reacting quickly and preventing a greater loss of life, and then urged his fellow leaders to make a priority of public works projects that can decrease the dangers posed by the hundreds of street-level railroad crossings in metropolitan Buenos Aires.
A $1.2 billion project to move the busy Sarmiento line’s tracks into an underground tunnel has been delayed for more than a decade, despite hundreds of deaths from train collisions each year. In 2010, 440 people and 165 vehicles were hit by trains in the city and province of Buenos Aires, and 269 people died.
“So many Argentines have lost their lives because their government hasn’t kept its promises,” Macri lamented. “We need to learn how to govern and resolve these problems that have been with us for decades. We need to make a priority of these public works, so that the people can get home and to work faster, and to generate jobs.”
The bus driver, Filiberto Gallardo, was among those killed as the oncoming train crunched the bus against the station platform, then flew off the rails and struck the front of another locomotive.
Gallardo’s widow, Soledad Gallardo, described him as a prudent driver who nevertheless was frustrated by the crossing, where trains come by so frequently that the barrier blocks street traffic more often than not. “He always talked to me about the barrier at Flores. He told me that he kept having to wait, that the train was far away and the barrier didn’t rise, that at times people had to get out of their cars and lift it,” she told Radio 10 Wednesday before her husband’s funeral.