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Speed blamed for Spain rail crash

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Spain
Madrid (Spain)

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Excessive speed has been blamed for a rail derailment in northern Spain that killed six people and injured 36 others.

Five people died at the scene of the derailment and a sixth person died in a hospital, officials in the central government's main local office in Palencia told CNN.

The six-car train carrying 466 passengers from Spain's northwest cities of La Coruna and Vigo to Bilbao and the French border city of Hendaye derailed in Villada, just before 4 p.m. (1400 GMT) on Monday, said a spokeswoman for Spain's state-run railway, Renfe.

All six cars derailed, said Miguel Alejo, the central government's chief official in the Castilla-Leon region. Pictures from the scene indicated that at least one car appeared to have remained upright.

"There was excessive speed and now we've got to find out what caused it," Reuters reported Spanish Development Minister Magdalena Alvarez as saying.

The train's first carriage smashed into a bridge, ripping off its side and dragging other carriages off the rails.

Alvarez said rail operators breached regulations by attaching carriages of a high-speed train to the back of a regional one to save time after the service fell behind schedule.

A passenger on the train, Ruben Paniagua, told a local TV reporter that many of the people aboard appeared to have been pilgrims to the shrine at Santiago de Compostela, one of the holiest sites of the Roman Catholic Church, in a city where the train took on passengers early in its trip.

Paniagua said he got off the train at the town of Sahagun, about 10 km (6 miles) from Villada, and then drove to his job in Villada, where he stared in disbelief at the crippled train he had just been riding, and then helped out in the rescue efforts. He said one person who had been sitting near him early in the journey appeared to have died.

There was no immediate word on the nationalities of the dead and injured.

Four medical helicopters, numerous ambulances and several crews of firefighters were at the scene, the Renfe spokesman said.

Pictures from the scene showed the accident appeared to involve just one train on a clear day, which was confirmed by government spokesmen.

The derailment occurred near the industrial park on the outskirts of Villada, a town about 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Palencia city.

Palencia province is roughly halfway between Madrid and the French border.

The train started its journey from two northwestern Spanish cities, La Coruna and Vigo, with two trains taking on passengers in those towns and then traveling eastward until they joined into a single train, which is the one that derailed near Villada.

It was heading for the northern Basque city of Bilbao and the French border, the Renfe spokesman said.

The crash followed one in July in which 41 people died when an underground train overturned at high speed in the eastern city of Valencia.

CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman contributed to this report.

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