(Larissa) Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Wednesday blamed the train disaster that killed 38 the day before on a “tragic human error”, at a time when controversy swelled in the country over the state of the network that many consider dilapidated.
What there is to know
- A head-on collision between two trains, a passenger train and a freight convoy occurred on Tuesday evening, near Larissa;
- The collision occurred at the exit of a small tunnel over which passes a highway linking Athens to Thessaloniki;
- At least 38 people died, 85 others were injured;
- The collision is due to “a tragic human error”;
- The Larissa station master was arrested on Wednesday morning;
- Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has declared national mourning for three days;
- Some 500 people are involved in the rescue.
“Everything shows that the tragedy is due, unfortunately, mainly to a tragic human error”, said the head of government, who went to the scene and declared a national mourning for three days.
Earlier the Minister of Transport, Kostas Karamanlis, announced that he was presenting his resignation after this accident between a passenger train with 342 passengers and ten railway employees on board, which linked Athens to Thessaloniki in the north of the country, and a convoy merchandise.
They collided head-on when they were for an undetermined reason on the same path for several kilometers, killing 38 and injuring several dozen according to a latest report.
The station manager of Larissa, the town closest to the accident in central Greece, was arrested during the day, according to a judicial source to AFP, and he is being prosecuted for “negligent homicides” and for having been causing “bodily injury”.
Most of the victims are “young people”, stressed Mr Mitsotakis as many students returned to Thessaloniki after a long weekend, Monday being a public holiday in Greece.
Recounting having met relatives of victims during a visit to the scene and then to the Larissa hospital, Kyriakos Mitsotakis indicated: “They asked me ‘why’”.
“We owe them an honest answer,” he added in a brief recorded television intervention.
The violence of the shock that occurred shortly before midnight (5 p.m. Eastern time) in the Tempé Valley, the locomotives and the leading cars were pulverized and the drivers of the two trains killed instantly.
No security system
The president of the OSE train drivers’ union, Kostas Genidounias, denounced the lack of safety, according to him, on this line which connects the two main cities of Greece.
“All (signalling) is done manually. It’s been since the year 2000 that the systems have not worked, ”he got carried away on the television channel Ert.
Previously, he had also assured AFP that “no security system, remote control and traffic light were working”.
Contacted by AFP, the Italian public group Ferrovie dello Stato (FS), which controls the Hellenic Train railway company, privatized in 2017, did not immediately comment.
Footage showed charred train cars in a tangle of metal parts and shattered windows.
Other carriages, less damaged, lay on their side as rescuers used ladders to try to extricate survivors and two giant cranes to transport pieces of the train carcasses.
The collision occurred at the exit of a small tunnel over which passes a highway linking Athens to Thessaloniki.
“Train of Terror”
“The work of firefighters and rescuers is very difficult, they are looking for […] the charred bodies,” explained Konstantinos Giannakopoulos, the president of the union of doctors of Larissa, on the public television channel ERT.
“It was the train of terror,” Pavlos Aslanidis, whose son is missing and one of his friends, told reporters.
In Larissa, where the injured were transported, the mayor, Apostolos Kalogiannis spoke of “floods of ambulances bringing burns, amputees, everything you can imagine”.
“We felt the collision like a big earthquake,” a passenger, Angelos, 22, told AFP at the scene of the accident.
“Fortunately, we were in the penultimate car and we got out alive. There was a fire in the first cars and panic ensued. It’s a nightmare that I lived […] I’m still shaking,” he continued.
Some 500 people participated in the rescue on Wednesday, said the government spokesman.