Argentina Train Videos Show Distracted Drivers

By MICHAEL WARREN | August 2, 2013

Argentina has put cameras in commuter train cabins that captured drivers reading books, talking on cellphones and even sleeping when they should have been focused on the rails.

Interior and Transport Minister Florencio Randazzo presented the results Wednesday as he announced new measures designed to improve train safety.

One train driver can be seen sleeping through repeated road crossings between stations. Another covers up his cabin’s camera with a shirt. Still others read books and talk on cellphones at high speeds.

Randazzo said these motormen have been fired or disciplined, and that all drivers, guards and signalmen must now pass a physical inspection when they report for work each day, including a blood-oxygen test to guard against falling asleep or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Also, their licenses will now have to be renewed every year, and the conductors will have to pass rigorous new exams including 100 hours of additional training, he said.

The cameras were installed after Argentina’s latest deadly commuter train crash, which killed three people in June. The government has run the commuter rail system directly since another train slammed into a downtown station last year, killing 51 people. Randazzo has said that the conductors were responsible for both wrecks.

The driver of a Spanish train that crashed last week, killing 79 people, told a judge Wednesday that he was talking by phone to the train’s on-board ticket inspector moments before the accident.

Argentina’s train unions had rebelled against the cameras, staging a daylong strike last month. They still blame bad brakes and other maintenance failures for both of the Buenos Aires train wrecks.

“I’m not going to defend a motorman who goes asleep,” union leader Ruben Sobrero told Radio 1110. But he accused Randazzo of trying to sling mud at everyone by pointing out a few particular cases.

Randazzo said the video recordings speak for themselves.

“These measures aren’t against anyone, but rather in favor of passengers having a right to have well-trained conductors driving responsibly,” Randazzo said.

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