Argentina drops train operator after deadly crash

Argentina's government on Thursday revoked the commuter railway concession for a company whose train crashed in February, killing 51 people and injuring 703.

The Trains of Buenos Aires company, which operated some commuter rail lines in the capital region since the operations were privatized in 1995, failed to adequately maintain equipment, ignored multiple sanctions and fines, and allowed quality to seriously deteriorate, Planning Minister Julio de Vido said.

The company's Sarmiento and Mitre lines, which carry hundreds of thousands of people into Buenos Aires each day, will be operated on a temporary basis by executives from two other regional train systems, de Vido said.

A criminal investigation continues into the cause of the Feb. 22 crash. The motorman testified that the brakes failed before the train smashed into the Once station, but investigators found trace amounts of alcohol in his blood and were trying to determine whether he fell asleep.

Union and government officials blamed the company's executives for the disaster.

De Vido said the company had at least 250 fines pending for "irregularities" in its train service, and he blamed privatization policies of previous governments for ruining the system.

He said that despite $4.5 billion in train investments by the current left-of-center government, Argentina's rail system has failed to recover from "a gigantic process of emptying since 1955, which led to the loss of nearly 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) of track, about 30,000 jobs and the closing of stations."

But Paolo Menghini, whose son died in the crash, told the Argentine website that "the state is part of what happened," saying evidence produced by the criminal investigation shows that many officials failed to do their jobs.

"It's become clear that so many deaths have had a purpose — although these deaths could have been avoided," Menghini said.