LARISSA: Anger mounted in Greece on Thursday over a deadly train collision that killed at least 57 people, with protests and a national strike as authorities admitted failures overseeing the rail network.

About 700 demonstrators massed outside the Athens headquarters of Greek rail operator Hellenic Train to voice outrage and sorrow over the country’s worst-ever rail disaster.

The crowd held a moment of silence to honour victims who died in the wreckage near Larissa in central Greece, where a freight and passenger train collided head on Tuesday.

“We are angry towards the company, towards the government and past governments that did nothing to improve conditions in the Greek railway,” said Stavros Nantis, a pensioner, at the protest.

Striking rail workers paralysed Greece’s train services on Thursday in protest at government management of the network, saying it contributed to the fatal collision.

Announcing the 24-hour shutdown, the rail union federation denounced a “lack of respect towards Greece’s rail network by successive governments over the years, which led to this tragic result”.

Government spokesman Yiannis Economou said an inquiry would examine the “chronic delays in implementing railway works, delays caused by chronic public-sector malaise and decades of failure.”

Negligence

Authorities have pointed to “human error” in explaining the collision in which two carriages were demolished and a restaurant car caught fire, trapping many victims inside. “I believe the responsibility, the negligence, the error has been confessed by the station master,” Economou told reporters in Athens.

The manager “acknowledges what he has done,” his lawyer confirmed.

Train unionists say security problems for the Athens-Thessaloniki railway line had been known for years.

The country’s transport minister resigned on Wednes­day, and his replacement on Thursday offered his “apologies” to families of the victims and vowed a “complete evaluation of the political system and the state”.

“I want to say, looking these people straight in the eye, that there will be an inquiry and everything will be presented to Greek citizens,” Giorgos Gerapetritis said.

Safety systems on the Athens-Thessaloniki line are still not fully automated, five years after the state-owned Greek rail operator Trainose was privatised and sold to Italy’s Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane and became Hellenic Train.

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2023

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