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September 14, 2011

Video: New footage of deadly Argentine bus-train crash

By Michael Warren
Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentines traded blame Wednesday for a bus and train collision that killed 11 people and injured more than 200 in 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 signals warning of nearby trains. 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. (5:23 a.m. EDT; 0923 GMT) accident, and that someone had stuck a pole in the barrier to keep it from 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 Wednesday.

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.


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