Greece: Outrage as Greece admits ‘failures’ after fatal train crash

LARISSA: Greeks will hold a third day of protests across the country on Friday after a fatal train collision killed at least 57 people, sparking public criticism of government failures in the rail network.
Anger has been mounting since a freight train and passenger train, carrying more than 350 people, collided head-on late Tuesday near Larissa in central Greece.
Protesters are expected to hold silent demonstrations Friday evening in the capital Athens and several major cities across Greece, while unions have also urged railway workers to strike for a second consecutive day.
Greece’s train services were paralysed Thursday by striking workers who say that successive administrations’ mismanagement of the network had contributed to the fatal collision.
The rail union federation denounced a “lack of respect towards Greece’s rail network by successive governments over the years, which led to this tragic result”.
Angry demonstrators started rallying Wednesday in Athens to demand answers over the country’s worst-ever rail disaster, before being dispersed by police using tear gas.
Around 700 angry demonstrators rallied outside the Athens headquarters of Greek rail operator Hellenic Train on Thursday.
“We are angry at the company, at the government and past governments that did nothing to improve conditions in the Greek railway,” said pensioner Stavros Nantis.
And in Thessaloniki — Greece’s second largest city — police said a protest of about 2,000 demonstrators turned violent, with protesters throwing stones and petrol bombs.
Government spokesman Yiannis Economou said an inquiry would examine the “chronic delays in implementing railway works — delays caused by chronic public sector malaise and decades of failure”.
Authorities have pointed to “human error” in seeking to explain the train collision, in which two carriages were demolished and a buffet car caught fire, trapping many victims inside.
“I believe the responsibility, the negligence, the error has been confessed by the station master,” Economou told reporters in Athens.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is seeking re-election this spring, said after visiting the crash site on Wednesday: “Everything shows that the drama was, sadly, mainly due to a tragic human error.”
‘Complete evaluation’
But train sector unions say security problems on the Athens-Thessaloniki railway line had been known for years.
The lawyer for the 59-year-old station master — who has been charged with negligent homicide — said his client has admitted partial responsibility for the crash, but stressed there were other factors at play.
“My client has assumed his share of responsibility. But we must not focus on a tree when there is a forest behind it,” lawyer Stefanos Pantzartzidis said on Thursday.
State broadcaster ERT has noted that the station master was only appointed to the post 40 days ago, after a training course that lasted just three months.
For decades, Greece’s 2,552-kilometre (1,585-mile) rail network has been plagued by mismanagement, poor maintenance and obsolete equipment.
The country’s transport minister resigned on Wednesday in the wake of the crash.
His replacement Giorgos Gerapetritis has offered “apologies” to families of the victims, and vowed a “complete evaluation of the political system and the state”.
Safety systems on the line are still not fully automated, five years after the state-owned Greek rail operator Trainose was privatised and sold to Italy’s Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane and became Hellenic Train.
The company said Wednesday it was working with the authorities and had offered “financial support” to the passengers.
Scenes of horror
US President Joe Biden offered his condolences on Thursday for the “tragic train accident“.
The passenger train ran for several kilometres on the same track as an incoming freight train, reportedly after the station master in Larissa failed to reroute one of the trains.
Survivors described scenes of horror and chaos when the crash occurred.
Many dodged smashed glass and debris as the train keeled over and broke windows to climb out.
The train’s buffet car burst into flames, with temperatures inside reaching 1,300 degrees Celsius (2,370 Fahrenheit), the fire department said.
For hours after the collision it was not immediately clear how many people were on board, complicating efforts to determine how many are missing.
Roubini Leontari, the chief coroner at Larissa’s general hospital, told ERT on Thursday that over 10 people were still unaccounted for, including two Cyprus nationals.
Hospitals in three cities — Larissa, Thessaloniki and Katerini — were treating the dozens of wounded, six of whom were in intensive care.
Hundreds of people gathered in Larissa to donate blood needed to treat the injured.

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