This is what a high-speed train crash looks like

A high-speed train derails in northern Spain, killing 78 people and injuring 178. Here's the video -- and an explanation for why it's so unusual.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

A train traveling at high speed has derailed outside Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, killing at least 78 people and injuring another 178.

It is one of the worst such disasters in Spanish history, according to RT.

There were 240 people on board the train, which was traveling between Madrid and Ferrol. Authorities say 13 cars derailed and four caught fire.

Impossibly, a closed-circuit security camera installed on the track caught the moment that the train derailed.

It's important to note that authorities believe the train was traveling at twice the posted speed limit. Though high-speed trains typically travel at 220 kilometers per hour (about 137 miles per hour), the speed limit on that section of track is 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour. The Wall Street Journal reports that the train was not a Spanish AVE bullet train, but a regional "express" train that uses high-speed tracks.

The brief video:

Why are we showing you this? Because we regularly extol the virtues of high-speed rail in this publication, and it's appropriate to occasionally step back and look at the drawbacks, too. As with air travel, when you're moving that fast, missteps can be catastrophic.

Indeed, a smaller (but still deadly) accident in Spain that occurred last month prompted U.S. officials to call for more attention on the safety of HSR, as it's sometimes called, according to a Chicago Tribune report. The biggest concern is that in the places where we want to deploy high-speed trains -- major metropolitan areas -- there are enough rail-road crossings to warrant concern. (Indeed, no region of the world knows this conflict better than dense, old Europe. Or, for that matter, dense, old China.)

This is one of several reasons why high-speed rail in the U.S. is so much slower than elsewhere, by the way. This transit method is most financially feasible in the Northeast Corridor, which includes Boston, Providence, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. Those cities make the tech worthwhile, but they also happen to be in the densest part of the country.

The good news: high-speed rail is shockingly safe. According to SNCF, the operator of France's high-speed TGV trains, there have been four derailments since service began in 1981, but no fatalities. The most frequent incident reported on high-speed TGV trains? The striking of animals who have wandered onto the tracks.

Similar statistics -- that is, no fatalities -- have been reported by Central Japan Railway Company, which has operated the famous Tokaido Shinkansen train for 47 years. CJRC runs 323 "ultra high speed" services a day, at speeds of 270 kilometers per hour (168 miles per hour).

We don't know why the Spanish train was an exception -- not yet, anyway. What we do know is that in modern high-speed trains, there are an array of smart systems working to prevent such situations. For example, in-cab signaling systems display to the driver a permitted safe speed, calculated from the speed limit for that section of line and the distance from the next train ahead. In some nations such as in the U.K., there are also warning systems specifically designed to prevent excessive speed on known problem curves and when entering the station.

So the images you see above? Don't get stuck on them. When it comes to transit safety, you're in far better shape in a plane or train than the car you may have used to drive to work.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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