ATHENS: Greece’s rail watchdog on Friday said a probe had uncovered serious signs of poor training among staff on duty during the country’s deadliest train tragedy, which killed 57 people last month.

The Regulatory Authority for Railways (RAS) in a statement said the shortcomings constituted an “immediate and serious” threat to public safety, after finding “lack of proof” that recently hired stationmasters had completed the required basic training. It blamed the state-owned Hellenic Railways Organisation (OSE) that owns the network for “inadequate” training of “critical” personnel.

“The training provided by OSE... to staff conducting critical safety duties was lacking and therefore inadequate,” the independent authority said.

The investigation was launched on March 3, three days after two trains collided, killing 57 people.

RAS on Friday gave OSE five days to provide an explanation, and ordered any staff lacking full training sidelined.

The authority said it was also unclear how many stationmasters in training actually completed the required course.

The stationmaster on duty on the night of the accident has admitted mistakenly allowing the passenger and freight trains to run on the same track for several kilometres.

He and three other railway officials have been charged over the disaster and face a possible life sentence.

But railway unions had long been warning about problems, claiming the network was underfunded and understaffed after a decade of spending cuts, and prone to accidents.

Once-operational safety systems have also fallen into disuse owing to extensive vandalism and looting of the 2,552-kilometre network, train unionists say.

Maintenance has also been dogged by bureaucratic and legal delays in finalising infrastructure contracts, officials have said.

OSE was mismanaged for decades and successive Greek governments were investigated by the EU for hundreds of millions of euros in illegal state aid to the company.

Greece was ultimately forced to break up the company during the bailout cuts that accompanied the country’s decade-long debt crisis.

The Greek state kept ownership of the network, but rail services were sold to Italy’s state-owned Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane (FS) in 2017.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2023

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