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Cars and TransportationGreece

Greece train crash: Government admits 'decades of failure'

March 2, 2023

The station manager has been arrested and admitted responsibility, according to the Greek government. The death toll is continuing to rise after the the country's worst ever train tragedy.

Rescuers operate at the site of a crash, where two trains collided, near the city of Larissa, Greece
The collision occurred near the city of Larissa, on the railyway line between Greece's two biggest cities, Athens and ThessalonikiImage: Kostas Mantziaris/REUTERS

The Greek government on Thursday admitted failures in its state railway system as the death toll rose to 46 after two trains collided in Greece's worst ever rail tragedy.

Fire Service spokesman Yiannis Artopios said the grim recovery procedure was ongoing "centimeter by centimeter" while Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that "everything shows that the drama was, sadly, mainly due to a tragic human error."

Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis has resigned over the accident and angry protests have broken out.

'Chronic delays in implementing railway works'

A probe into the tragedy would focus on the "chronic delays in implementing railway works, delays caused by chronic public sector malaise and decades of failure," government spokesman Yiannis Economou told reporters in Athens.

"I believe the responsibility, the negligence, the error has been confessed by the station master," Economou said.

The 59-year-old station manager has been arrested in the wake of the tragedy where two carriages were demolished and a restaurant car caught fire, trapping victims inside.

Protests follow fatal crash

On Wednesday evening, protesters hurled rocks at train company offices in Athens, before being dispersed by riot police using tear gas. Anger also spilled onto the streets of Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city in the north of the country, and the destination for one of the trains involved in the collision.

The other train was a freight train.

On Thursday, trains were brought to a halt in a one-day strike against what unions claimed was successive governments' refusal to listen to repeated demands to improve safety.

State railway forewarned over potential accidents

The Greek state railway company OSE has been heavily criticized in the wake of the crash. According to media reports, railway trade union members had long warned of the possibility of accidents due to the electronic control system on the Athens-Thessaloniki line was not functioning properly.

The latest warning came just three weeks ago, according to the newspaper Naftemporiki, which reported that there have been repeated minor accidents or close calls along the route between the two cities.

"As long as no protective measures are taken for the workplaces and the safe operation and traffic of the trains, the accidents will not come to an end," says the union's letter, dated February 7.

The communication stated the dangerous situation could no longer be tolerated. "What are you waiting for to intervene? What more needs to happen?"

Another letter sent by the Train Drivers' Association to the Ministry of Transport last November also highlighted shortcomings.

What happened in Greece's worst ever rail tragedy?

The collision occurred at around 11:30 pm on Tuesday (2130 GMT) near Larissa in the Tempe Valley of Thessaly, some 380 kilometers (236 miles) north of Athens, on the main railway line between the capital and Thessaloniki. 

The passenger train, with 342 passengers and 10 employees on board, crashed into a freight train heading in the opposite direction on the same track, officials said.

All 10 train employees are believed to have died in the tragedy.

jsi/ar (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)