At least 46 people dead leaves the deadliest rail accident in Greece. The rescuers resumed the search operations for more victims this Thursday, March 2, among the remains of the two trains that collided on Tuesday, February 28. Meanwhile, the authorities are investigating the causes of the tragedy and trying to establish the reasons why a passenger train and a cargo train were allowed to run on the same railway line for several kilometers.
Search for victims, investigations and strikes. It is the panorama with which Greece woke up this Thursday, March 2, after the deadliest rail accident in its history was recorded.
In the early hours of the day, dozens of rescuers resumed their search operations for more victims among the bent and incinerated remains of the vehicles that collided at high speed on the night of Tuesday, February 28.
Emergency crews had paused the search Wednesday night to give exhausted rescuers and crane operators a breather.
Authorities confirm at least 46 people dead, but the figure may be higher.
“The most difficult moment is this, where instead of saving lives we have to recover bodies (…) The temperatures of 1,200 degrees and more in the wagons cannot allow anyone to stay alive,” said Konstantinos Imanimidis, one of the rescuers who They work at the accident site.
To identify some of the deceased, relatives had to deliver DNA samples to a hospital in Larissa, a city in the north of the country, near where the incident occurred.
The flames broke out at the time of the collision between the passenger train with 350 people on board and the freight train. Survivors narrated that many had to hit the windows to get out of the vehicle.
“It is a difficult operation (…) We have to advance meticulously, inch by inch, to reach all the people and hand them over to their families,” firefighter spokesman Giannis Artopios told state broadcaster ERT.
Most of the victims were university students returning home after a long holiday weekend, which included a carnival that had not been held since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
They point to possible “human error” as the cause of the accident
The head of operations of the Larissa train station, who was arrested on Wednesday, March 1, is scheduled to testify before a prosecutor this Thursday.
Authorities said they are trying to clarify the circumstances that led the passenger train, en route to the northern city of Thessaloniki, to run for several kilometers on the same rail line as the train carrying containers and coming from the opposite direction.
In a televised address, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who visited the crash site, said the evidence pointed to “human error.”
The premier, who is seeking re-election in this year’s elections, added that it was a “terrible train accident without precedent” in the country and promised that it would be “fully” investigated.
Meanwhile, Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis resigned, saying he took responsibility for longstanding failures by the state to fix a rail system he said was “not fit for the 21st century.”
Workers’ strike paralyzes rail transport
As authorities point to possible human error as the cause behind the accident, railway workers across the country accuse successive governments of ignoring repeated demands to improve safety standards.
As a form of protest, the unions called for a strike by employees and drivers of this type of transport, for which they stopped the national rail services and the metro in Athens.
They protest the working conditions and what they denounce as a lack of modernization of the system.
In addition, dozens of people threw stones at the offices of the operator Hellenic Train, in the Greek capital, before being dispersed by bursts of tear gas fired by riot police. Protests also broke out in the cities of Thessaloniki and Larissa.
Nikos Tsouridis, a retired train driver trainer, said the drivers involved in the accident died “because there were no safety measures.”
“And why were there no security measures? The station chief made a mistake, he admitted it, but surely there must be a security mechanism to resort to,” Tsouridis remarked.
A security supervisor who resigned last year, quoted by Reuters, warned that infrastructure improvements pending since 2016 were incomplete and train speeds of up to 200 kilometers per hour were unsafe.
Greece sold rail operator TrainOSE to Italy’s Ferrovie dello Stato and became Hellenic Train, under its international bailout program in 2017, expecting hundreds of millions of euros to be invested in rail infrastructure over the next few years.
But five years after that operation, hundreds of workers say that the security systems on the Athens-Thessaloniki line are still not fully automated.
With Reuters, AP and AFP