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At Least 41 Dead in Valencia Subway Accident

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A funeral mass today in Spain, in the city of Valencia, honors the 41 people killed yesterday when a subway train derailed. Though terrorism has been ruled out, the incident brought back memories for many Spaniards of the 2004 attack on Madrid's commuter trains.

Jerome Socolovsky reports now from Valencia.

Mr. JEROME SOCOLOVSKY reporting:

The city of Valencia is observing a second of three days of mourning. Five minutes of silence will be observed today, and tonight, King Juan Carlos, of Spain, and Queen Sofia, are expected to attend a state funeral for those who perished in the subway crash.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is cutting short a visit to India to attend.

(Soundbite of Spanish National News Television)

National news shows are replaying scenes from the tragedy. A two-car subway train derailed as it took a curve just before the estation ef Jesus(ph), a station near the center of town.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign spoken)

Mr. SOCOLOVSKY: One survivor told Spanish television that she heard an explosion and saw black smoke after the impact. Authorities say the tragedy was an accident. One official said the 18-year-old train ruptured a tire when it was rounding a curve.

Some reports say the train accelerated into the curve, slammed into a wall, and flipped over. Survivors smashed windows. They used the LEDs on their cell phones to light their way through the tunnel, stepping over bodies on the tracks.

Last September, three trains collided on the same line, injuring dozens of people. Valencia transport officials insist the train was up to date with its safety inspections. But the railway workers union says it had warned repeatedly of problems on this particular subway line. Passengers calling in to radio talk shows say there were regular blackouts and air conditioning failures, and that the cars knocked and screeched around the curve.

The local newspaper, Livante, reports that the track on the curve was deformed, and a 25 mile per hour speed limit had been imposed there.

(Soundbite of people at the Jesus Metro Station)

Mr. SOCOLOVSKY: Life has returned to normal in the working class neighborhood around the Jesus Metro Station.

(Soundbite of children in park)

Mr. SOCOLOVSKY: A couple of kids in a park pretend they're Spanish soccer stars. Nearby, Miguel Anchelsous(ph) sits on a bench reading a thick paperback. He says the state of the Metro line is just more proof that politicians have neglected the day to day needs of Valencia's citizens while getting carried away with grandiose projects across town.

Mr. MIGUEL ANCHELSOUS (Spanish Metro Rider): (Foreign spoken)

Mr. SOCOLOVSKY: What good is a music or opera or arts palace, or whatever they want to call it, if there are children in rented shacks because there aren't enough school classrooms, he says.

The Palau de les Arts, a theater designed by Santiago Calatrava, is just one of the architectural wonders built along the river in recent years. Valencia is hoping to turn itself into an international landmark. Next year's America's Cup race will be based here, and this weekend, Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to visit Valencia.

(Soundbite of Spanish language radio station)

Mr. SOCOLOVSKY: A Christian radio station addresses the thousands of people already here for a world meeting of families. The meeting is aimed at promoting Christian family values, and it culminates with the Papal appearance.

The Pope is still expected to come, but many of the festivities have been canceled.

For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky, in Valencia, Spain. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jerome Socolovsky is the Audio Storytelling Specialist for NPR Training. He has been a reporter and editor for more than two decades, mostly overseas. Socolovsky filed stories for NPR on bullfighting, bullet trains, the Madrid bombings and much more from Spain between 2002 and 2010. He has also been a foreign and international justice correspondent for The Associated Press, religion reporter for the Voice of America and editor-in-chief of Religion News Service. He won the Religion News Association's TV reporting award in 2013 and 2014 and an honorable mention from the Association of International Broadcasters in 2011. Socolovsky speaks five languages in addition to his native Spanish and English. He holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, and graduate degrees from Hebrew University and the Harvard Kennedy School. He's also a sculler and a home DIY nut.