Angry protests have erupted in Greece a day after a catastrophic train crash left 47 dead and dozens more injured.
A high-speed passenger train from Athens to Thessaloniki with more than 350 people on board – many of them students returning from carnival celebrations – crashed head-on into a freight train near the city of Larissa shortly before midnight on Tuesday (Feb. 28) in the country’s deadliest rail crash on record. The two trains then travelled for several kilometres along the same track before colliding at high speed.
Protesters clashed with police outside the headquarters of Hellenic Train in Athens – the company responsible for maintaining Greece’s railways- blaming the deadly disaster on the government’s privatisation of the railway firm. Protests were also held in Thessaloniki and Larissa.
As part of Greece’s international bailout amidst an economic crisis, Greece privatized its rail system in 2017, selling its lines to the Italian group Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, which runs rail services in several European countries. The collision is already raising questions about whether lines, systems and signaling equipment were properly inspected during the sale.
The Hellenic Train station master in Larissa, who has admitted that the accident was caused by his own handling errors, is to appear before an examining magistrate on Thursday (March 3) facing serious charges, AMNA reported.
Greece remains in a three-day period of national mourning from March 1-3 as work to retrieve and identify the bodies continues. Political parties are also suspending their campaigns for the general election expected to be held in April.
In protest and mourning, rail workers are planning on striking on Thursday (March 3) at what they say is official neglect of the railways.
“Pain has turned into anger for the dozens of dead and wounded colleagues and fellow citizens,” the workers’ union said in a statement announcing the strike. “The disrespect shown over the years by governments to the Greek railways led to the tragic result,” it added.
Greece’s transport minister Kostas Karamanlis submitted his resignation in the wake of the tragedy and said the network was so flawed it did “not befit the 21st century”.
From 2018 to 2020, Greece had the highest railway fatality rate among 28 European countries per million train kilometers, according to a 2022 report by the European Union Agency for Railways.
UPDATE 02/03/2023 20:27
The number of people who died following the train crash in northern Greece has climbed to 57, Hellenic Police spokesperson Konstantia Dimoglidou confirmed on Thursday (March 2) evening. Dimoglidou said that 48 people are still in hospital. Hundreds of people line up to donate blood to help those injured.
Officials said the search for survivors at the site of Greece’s deadliest train crash has ended but an undisclosed number of passengers remain missing. Greek trains run along a rudimentary system with safety features that work only sporadically, according to union and safety officials.