The train driver could only repeat, "I don't know what to do," so the passengers decided to abandon the train that was immobile before a wall of flames.
But that’s only one version of the event.
Shortly after leaving Valencia train station at 16.23h on Tuesday en route for Zaragoza, passengers could see a massive forest fire in the distance up ahead in Bejís – it never crossed their minds that the train would continue to head towards it.
An hour into the journey smoke started to make its way into the carriages, which is when anxiety started to spread amongst the passengers. Very soon they could see flames approaching the track but the train kept on rolling.
Finally the driver stopped the train but she was confused (according to some) and close to shock. She told one passenger that she was waiting for instructions but she wouldn’t back the train up. Finally she opened the doors so that passengers could abandon the train and seek safety, according to those that left the train.
It was mainly young adults amongst the 49 passengers who left the train; the elderly and children stayed behind.
Outside the air was like a blast out of a furnace making it very difficult to breath. Some of them fainted and others vomited because of the intense heat and smoke, but they kept moving because to stay were they were was almost certain death from asphyxia. A small group of those that left the train covered about three kilometres, heading for high ground so that they could see where they were and where to head and in the distances they could see three houses, so off they set again.
When they were getting close to the house, the people came out and drove over to them in a vans to pick them up. The people in the houses had seen the train drive into the forest fire and feared that the passengers were all going to die, so they decided to wait to see if anybody escaped from the train and fire.
The Spanish rail company, RENFE, has a different version to the events: they say that if it hadn’t been for the train driver who tried to keep passengers calm, the losses would have been enormous. Despite her efforts, RENFE claims, some passengers panicked and abandoned the train.
The witnesses who picked the passengers up in their large vehicles say that the passengers all said that they had had to pull the emergency-stop to get out of the train as the flames approached.
The passengers who stayed on the train didn’t die because the train didn’t burn, as the driver reversed the train back along the track, picking a most of those that had left the train. In fact, about 20 of those that had left the train were picked up by the train before it made its way back to the point of departure.
Editorial comment: amazingly, there was no ticket collector on the train, so the driver was by herself. In fact most trains, even ones that cover distances that take up to four or five hours, have only the driver onboard. Cost cutting at its finest.