The Government is finalizing a bill to create an independent authority in charge of the investigation and prevention of air, rail and maritime accidents with multiple victims. This body, a long claim of the victims’ associations, will have financial autonomy and will not depend on any ministry, according to the Executive. Currently, the investigation of this type of event is divided into three entities: the Civil Aviation Accident and Incident Investigation Commission (CIAIAC), the Railway Accident Investigation Commission (CIAF) and the Maritime Accident Investigation Commission (CIAM). ). All of them depend on the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda, and they investigate the three types of accidents separately. The new authority that the Executive intends to approve will be the result of the unification of these three entities, and, therefore, would proceed in the event of an air, rail or maritime accident.
In March 2022, this bill already reached the Council of Ministers at the proposal of the head of Transport, Raquel Sánchez. Then some of the issues contained in the new agency were broken down to make it an independent body. For example, the appointment of the people who will make up its governing body will be made at the proposal of the Ministry of Transport, by Royal Decree and with the prior intervention of the competent Commission in the Congress of Deputies.
On the other hand, the draft Law also regulates the legal regime for the technical investigation of accidents and incidents in the three means of transport. To do this, it merges the sectoral regulations currently in force on these events into a single text. In addition, the resources devoted to research will be optimized and the qualification of personnel, structured into specialized units for each mode of transport, will be guaranteed. Therefore, the text determines the accidents and incidents that must be investigated by the Authority, the technical investigation procedure, the investigation information system, and relations with other institutions. It also includes a specific information regime for victims, relatives and victims’ associations.
The objective of the Government is to bring this draft to the Council of Ministers next Tuesday so that its processing reaches Congress as soon as possible and, thus, approve the text before the end of the legislature. After going through the Council of Ministers, the phase of collecting reports from the Ministries and organizations affected by the matter begins, and the subsequent opinion of the Council of State.
The creation of a unitary body to investigate this type of event has been one of the demands of victims’ associations, such as the Association of People Affected by Spanair Flight JK5022. But the Congress of Deputies has also ruled: in May 2021, the parliamentary commission that investigated this plane crash—one of the largest in the history of Spain and in which 154 people died and 18 were seriously injured— issued 11 conclusions and 13 recommendations. The text that emerged from the Commission made explicit mention of the creation of a “multimodal” body for the investigation and prevention of accidents with multiple victims. In its first recommendation, the resolution urged the Government to make this entity “independent” of the Ministry of Transport, to respond only to the General Courts, and to be made up of experts.
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The general conclusion of that commission, approved by 219 votes in favor compared to the 121 of the Socialist Group, is that “all the security barriers failed” by the government of the socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
In both political and judicial investigations into the Alvia train accident in Angrois (Santiago de Compostela) in 2013, safety problems have also been alleged. In September 2018, an Investigation Commission was launched in Parliament to clarify what happened in this accident that caused 80 deaths and 152 injuries, which has not yet concluded.
However, the European Commission knocked down in 2016 the investigations that the Railway Accident Investigation Commission (CIAF), under the Ministry of Transport, promoted just after that accident. The inquiries unloaded the responsibility in an oversight of the driver, who did not stop at the curve because he was talking on the phone. The European Railway Agency invalidated that opinion due to various irregularities. Among them, it was found that the security directors of Adif and Renfe, organizations involved in the accident, were present in the investigative team, and their work barely studied the relationship that the management of the road could have with the accident.
Pilar Vera, president of the Spanair Victims Association: “It is an important step, but it is not the agency that Spain deserves”
Pilar Vera, president of the Association of People Affected by Flight JK 5022, lost a niece in the Spanair accident that occurred in August 2008. Since then, she has fought tirelessly to improve prevention and safety mechanisms in all types of transportation. She considers that the Government’s draft law to create a single and independent agency for the investigation of air, rail and maritime accidents is an important step in this matter. But even so, she is skeptical that she will be truly autonomous in her performances.
Ask. How do you assess the bill through which the Government wants to create an independent authority to be in charge of investigating air, sea and rail accidents?
Answer. I have been fighting since 2011 to end the Civil Aviation Accident and Incident Investigation Commission (CIAIAC), which is responsible only for civil air accidents. Since that year I have been proposing to all those responsible for the Ministry of Transport the creation of an independent authority. And the first time this possibility was glimpsed was with the former minister José Luis Ábalos. The draft is an achievement achieved. But from my point of view it is not quite the agency that Spain deserves.
R. What I have proposed is an organ multimodal that was really autonomous and credible. The Ministry’s draft includes many of our allegations, but we consider that, due to the architecture it presents, it will continue to be dependent on the Government.
Q. The Government, however, foresees that the body will have financial autonomy.
R. It is true that it is contemplated that it has its own budget, which is not quantified how much it will be, by the way. But it will continue to depend on the funds assigned by the Ministry. I propose that it be financed with a tax on flights that take place in Spain. As long as only 1 euro of what Aena collects in total each year is dedicated, it would be enough to finance the organization. I have proposed this and they have told me that it cannot be done, but I believe that it is perfectly feasible. In Spain we already have figures that are really independent and that answer directly to the Cortes Generales, such as the Ombudsman and the Nuclear Safety Council. Even so, I believe that this bill is a historic opportunity and I will support it. I never thought it would take this turn. For example, if an organization of these characteristics had existed, the Santiago train accident would not have occurred. This is a first step, but it will be necessary to continue fighting to achieve an accident investigation and prevention authority that is hierarchical, functional and administratively independent.
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