Greece: Train accident reveals “years of failure”

Status: 03/02/2023 1:38 p.m

After the train collision in Greece that killed 47, a railway employee took responsibility. The government speaks of “human error”, but its spokesman also of state failure. The misfortune becomes a political issue.

By Moritz Pompl, ARD Studio Rome

The rescue work after the serious train accident in Greece continues. In the night from Tuesday to Wednesday, two trains collided head-on on the country’s most important route, Athens – Thessaloniki. One of them: an Intercity with around 350 people on board, the other – a freight train.

The number of fatalities has since been revised upwards to 47. Several people are still missing – the authorities have not given any information on how many exactly. In front of the hospitals in the city of Larissa, for example, where the injured are treated and corpses identified, desperate relatives are waiting for news. Some of the identification must be carried out by means of a DNA test. When the two trains crashed, fire broke out, so fire victims are also included.

Rescue operation at the scene of the accident continues

After a public holiday, there were many young people among the approximately 350 passengers at the time of the accident. A man who is missing a 24-year-old woman reports on site: “She is neither among the injured nor among the dead. But they are still pulling people out of the wreckage. Also alive, from the third car she was in .”

At the scene of the accident, the rescue and recovery work continues with heavy equipment. Excavators are still digging through completely twisted and wedged mountains of metal. It is still being clarified why the two trains were running on one track at the same time on the double-track route.

Railway workers admit mistakes

The suspicion against the responsible railway employee for the section of the route, who may have given wrong instructions, is confirmed. A colleague who was with him that evening reports: The employee sent both trains onto the track and noticed his mistake too late. The system itself worked well. “The error is entirely his. A purely human error,” said the employee.

Government spokesman Giannis Economou, meanwhile, told journalists that the man had “acknowledged the responsibility, the negligence, the error”. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also spoke of a “tragic human error” in a television speech. Government spokesman Economou also acknowledged government failure. Delays in the modernization of the Greek railway network are due to “chronic” problems and “decades of failure” in administration.

Many Greeks are angry with the government. There were violent protests in Athens yesterday evening. The Greek railway union practiced fundamental criticism of the safety precautions. For example, there are no functioning digital signals along the main Athens-Thessaloniki train route.

Technical defects known for a long time

The union had pointed out these shortcomings again and again. “Nothing works. Everything has to be done manually, on the whole Athens-Thessaloniki route. There are no working signal systems. If they worked, the train drivers could see the red signals and stop in time,” said Kostas Genidounias, President of Train Drivers in Greece

Modern emergency braking systems would also be missing, although the EU Commission has been demanding exactly such safety systems from all member states for years and has also provided money for them. However, the responsible authorities in Greece did not comply. Instead, Greece’s Transport Minister Kostas Kostas Karamanlis, who has since resigned, responded to criticism from the opposition just ten days ago: It was a shame that “safety was being questioned”.

government in distress

The heads of the state authorities responsible for the railway network have already resigned. But the trouble for the government doesn’t stop there: today the Greek railway union is on strike to once again draw attention to the blatant safety deficiencies. Athens subway workers have joined, reporting similar security issues.

Further protests have been announced for the evening in the capital Athens. The accident will probably also have an impact on the upcoming parliamentary elections in Greece. This was originally planned for the beginning of April and could now probably be postponed to May or even July.

Some observers believe that the misfortune could become a second Mati. In 2018, devastating fires broke out in the town just outside Athens, killing 100 people. The current opposition party Syriza then lost the subsequent election.

Train crash in Greece

Moritz Pompl, BR currently Athens, March 2, 2023 12:35 p.m

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