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Greece train crash: Police arrest railroad station master

March 1, 2023

Greek authorities have arrested a railroad station master after a passenger train collision that killed dozens. Local media described the incident as the country's deadliest train accident.

Rescue crews operate at the site of a crash, where two trains collided, near the city of Larissa
Work was still underway hours after the crash to find more survivors amid the wreckageImage: Alexandros Avramidis/REUTERS

Greek police arrested a 59-year-old man over the collision of a passenger train that  derailed near the central city of Larissa overnight, killing at least 38 people.

The incident has been described as the worst of its kind in Greece's history, with the death toll expected to rise as rescuers work through the debris.

At least 38 people have died and another 66 have been hospitalized, some with serious injuries.

A police official said that the prosecutor had charged the station master with mass deaths through negligence and causing grievous bodily harm through negligence.

Train collision in Greece kills at least 36 people

Greek Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis also submitted his resignation on Wednesday over the incident. 

He said in a statement that stepping down was "the least he could do to honor the memory of the victims," adding that he was taking responsibility for the state's "long-standing failures."

In a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Wednesday said, "Everything shows that the drama was, sadly, mainly due to a tragic human error." Mitsotakis called the event "terrible" and "without precedent," saying it would be "fully" investigated.

Greek railways under fire

Several senior officials of the Hellenic Railways Organization and its subsidiaries resigned after the incident.

Hellenic Train, which was privatized in 2017, also suspended all scheduled services on Thursday after rail workers said they would strike.

"Pain has turned into anger for the dozens of dead and wounded colleagues and fellow citizens," the workers' union said in a statement.

"The disrespect shown over the years by governments to the Greek railways led to the tragic result."

In Athens, around 1,000 people protested outside the offices of Hellenic Train on Wednesday. Police used tear gas to disperse the protesters.

What caused the crash?

The passenger train headed from the capital, Athens, to the northern port of Thessaloniki collided head-on with a commercial freight train that had ended up on the same track just before midnight on Tuesday in the Thessaly region.  

The first four carriages of the passenger train were derailed, with the first two catching fire.

The train departed from the Greek capital at 7:22 p.m. local time on Tuesday evening and crashed near the city of Larissa.

It is not yet known why the trains were traveling on the same stretch, but the passenger train had just emerged from a tunnel.

"They were traveling at great speed and one (driver) didn't know the other was coming," Thessaly regional governor Konstantinos Agorastos said.

Rescue crews operate at the site of a crash, where two trains collided
The two trains had ended up on the same line, headed in the opposite directionImage: Alexandros Avramidis/REUTERS

Although modern tunnels and bridges had been constructed along the route, the Greek train drivers' union said there were sill problems with the coordination of traffic.

"We travel from one part of the line to the next by radio, just like in the old days. The station managers give us the green light," the union's president Kostas Genidounias said on state radio.

According to Hellenic Train data, the passenger train was carrying 342 travelers and 10 crew, while the cargo train had two crew on board.

Two large cranes on the site were starting to clear parts of the wreckage as morning broke Wednesday. Rescuers worked to free any passengers stuck in the mangled remains, still discovering victims hours later.

Investigators said that the temperature from the fires in one carriage had reached 1,300 degrees Celsius (2,375 degrees Fahrenheit).

President cuts foreign visit short

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou on Wednesday said she was cutting short a visit to Moldova to return to Greece.

"Unfortunately, I have to interrupt my visit in order to be close to my people, to support those who need it," she told a joint news conference with Moldovan President Maia Sandu in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed her condolences on Twitter.

"The whole of Europe is mourning with you," von der Leyen wrote. "My thoughts are with the people of Greece after the terrible train accident that claimed so many lives last night near Larissa."

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola offered her sympathy to "all victims, their families and friends."

"Grateful to all rescuers and medical staff on site," she added.

The head of the European Council, Charles Michel, said he was "shocked by the news and images of the collision of the two trains."

"My thoughts are with the people in Greece this morning," he tweeted.

zc, rc/nm (dpa, Reuters, AFP, AP)