Train Accident in Buenos Aires Leaves 51 Dead and 703 Injured, Sheds Light on State of Public Transport

Smashed wagons in Buenos Aires train accident PhotoYouTube/Video screen capture

A train that reportedly left a workshop yesterday failed to brake when entering a major station in the center of Buenos Aires and crashed against the end-of-the-line barrier, causing wagons to collapse against each other.

Local police stated that at least 49 have died and that there are around 600 people injured, 200 of which have been derived to hospitals around town (a later update stated the number of injured people was 461, and a final report fixed the number at 676, all of which are in hospitals, 200 of them in grave state) (final report fixed numbers at 51 dead, 703 injured).

The causes of the accident are still unclear, but some workers from the train union said the vehicle had left a workshop yesterday and everything related to the brakes should have been checked.

Although the story is still developing, citizens and media were quick to point to the less than perfect state of the train fleets, arguing that taxpayers are contributing millions to subsidies for public transport while not seeing much improvement (although, from my experience, some lines have been improved). The blame on why the money doesn't reach its goal lays either on the government or on the private company depending on who is talking.

La Nacion newspaper says Trenes de Buenos Aires, the company which manages the line in which the crash took place, received 76.9 million pesos (over 18 million US dollars) in January, but that most of it was spent in operational expenses and not on work in the vehicles or railways.

In an official statement published at their website, the company said it’s investigating the case with the local police and that it will not publish another statement until it has “certain information on the causes of the accident· and has judicial authorization to communicate it.

Some videos posted by users at YouTube show images of the accident and others published at La Nacion are even more explicit.

While The Atlantic was quick to point that public transportation accidents were not unusual in Argentina, it is fair to note they are far less usual than car-related accidents. The association Luchemos por la vida estimates the number of car-related deaths in 2011 at 7517, which is about 20 people a day. Which is to say: focus should be in improving the structure of public transport and not in framing it as insecure.

Still, the accident should be a wake up call for transportation authorities in Argentina. We'll keep you posted.

Update 3:50 PM. In a press conference this afternoon, the Argentine secretary of transport, Juan Pablo Schiavi, emphasized the accident was that, an accident in 320 trips the train makes a day. He stated the driver was 28 and well rested and that the train had stopped 14 times before reaching the main station. It's still unclear why the train didn't stop at the hub. He also said the final number of injured people in hospitals is 461, half of which are in grave state.

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