Argentina 27/02/2012

Horrific train crash in Buenos Aires leaves 51 dead and hundreds wounded, and some new schools in the capital go missing.

Disaster at Once train station

Wednesday this week saw the third-greatest rail accident in Argentine history. At 8.32am, a train on the Sarmiento line collided with the buffers at the Buenos Aires terminal of Once.

As it did so, the second carriage was pushed almost seven metres into the first, which was particularly full of passengers wanting to descend near the station exit. At the time of going to press, there were 51 confirmed deaths from the incident, with some 700 wounded.

The train driver, 28 year old Marcos Antonion Córdoba, was taken into intensive care after the accident. However, he later told federal judge Claudio Bonadio that the collision had occurred due to faulty brakes.

Córdoba told Bonadio’s inquiry: ‘At each station [before the terminal] I warned the traffic controller by radio that I had problems with the brakes. At the other end they told me: “Go on, go on, go on”‘.

Córdoba’s declarations have sparked a wave of complaints and accusations over the management of the Sarmiento line. The company awarded the contract by the government, Trenes de Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires Trains – TBA) receives millions of pesos of state subsidies each year.

Buenos Aires newspaper La Nación reported on Sunday that TBA had a record of disclipining employees for reporting faults with its trains. It cited the case of a train guard in February this year who was sanctioned for refusing to depart with a train whose doors wouldn’t close.

Opposition political groups have strongly criticised the government’s decision to present itself as plaintiff in the judicial inquiry into the incident. A statement from the Unión Cívica Radical (Radical Civic Union – UCR) read: ‘The government is not a victim, nor can it represent all the victims. On the contrary, among its ranks are some of those potentially responsible for this event’.

There have been suggestions that the government has failed to impose the necessary controls on TBA and its owner, the Cirigliano Group, due to its close personal relations with the president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The Cirigliano Group received 76.9 million pesos (17.7m USD) of subsidies in January of this year.

The president declared two days of national mourning and the cancellation of Carnival festivities after the accident. Messages of condolence were sent from governments around the world.

Buenos Aires schools are late for class

The Buenos Aires city legislature this week released a report into the construction of 31 new schools in the capital which were meant to have been finished by the end of 2011. Of the schools, financed by a large sale of public land in the city in 2010, only one was found to have been finished.

Of the rest, in 12 cases works have not even begun, and in 13 they began only recently. The report claims that in many cases, delays are due to late payment on the part of city authorities.

María Elena Naddeo, the city legislator behind the report, questioned whether the 386 million pesos gained from the sale of the Catalinas Norte land in 2010 had been put to their proper use.

A law passed at the time states that funds obtained from the sale can only be invested in the city education ministry. Naddeo highlighted that at a time when there is a lack of 3,500 school places in the city, the new installations could have provided an extra 400.

The city education ministry replied to the report by stating that ‘in 2012, as in 2011, the City Government will invest record amounts in school infrastructure’. It also affirmed by the end of this year all fund proceeding from the Catalinas Norte sales will have been appropriately invested.