(Larissa) Rail traffic is paralyzed by a strike Thursday in Greece where angry demonstrations are increasing two days after the deadly head-on collision between two trains, despite the government’s mea culpa which recognized “chronic” failures in the railways. iron.
“It’s not a mistake, but a crime”, wrote in the Journal of the editors (left), summing up the shock and above all the fury that prevailed in the population, while the station master confessed in court, after his arrest on Wednesday, having made a “mistake”.
The trains traveled several kilometers on the same track linking Athens to Thessaloniki (north), the two largest Greek cities, before colliding head-on on Tuesday evening, causing the death of at least 57 people, according to the police. .
“The dead of Tempé demand answers”, headlined the liberal Kathimerini, alluding to the place, near the city of Larissa (center), where the disaster occurred, while experts and media reported the “lack of electronic systems” on the rail network.
At the scene of the tragedy, search operations continued, but “the more time passes, the less the chances (of finding survivors) are important,” a spokeswoman for the fire department told AFP.
Stationary trains, demonstrations
At the same time, the trains were at a standstill after a call for a 24-hour strike by the Confederation bringing together the railway unions to denounce “the lack of respect shown by governments over time towards the Greek railways, which led to this disaster.
“Unfortunately, our constant demands for more permanent staff, better training, but above all the adoption of modern security technologies have all been thrown in the trash for good,” these organizations lamented.
The president of the OSE train drivers’ union, Kostas Genidounias, highlighted the lack of safety on the line where the collision occurred.
“All (signalling) is done manually. It’s been since the year 2000 that the systems have not worked,” he got carried away.
The union representatives of the Hellenic Train railway company sounded the alarm in this regard just three weeks ago.
“We are not going to wait for the accident to happen to see those responsible shed crocodile tears,” they warned.
Konstantinos Hasiotis, an expert, for his part regretted to AFP the delays in installing the PTS (Positive Train Control) electronic safety radar system.
In the evening, after a first stormy rally the day before, hundreds of people protested in front of the headquarters of Hellenic Train, a company bought in 2017 by the Italian public group Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane (FS) as part of the privatization program demanded by Greece’s creditors (ECB, EU, IMF) during the economic crisis (2009-2018).
Residents of Larissa also demonstrated, carrying banners that read: “Privatization kills”.
“The delays (in the modernization of the railways) have their origin in the chronic pathologies of the Greek public sector, in decades of weakness,” government spokesman Yannis Oikonomou admitted to the press on Thursday.
The new Minister of Transport, Giorgos Gerapetritis, for his part apologized to the families of the victims, while making “a complete self-criticism of the political system and the State”. The former minister, Kostas Karamanlis, had resigned the day before.
In the midst of controversy, the media made public a letter from the former head of the European rail traffic system (ERTMS) in Greece, Christos Katsioulis, in which he noted “the poor management” of the application of “signalling contracts” on certain parts of the network.
“Until 2010, there was some modernization of the signaling of the railway network, but, during the financial crisis, the security systems began to break down,” recalled Panagiotis Terezakis, an adviser to the administration of the Greek Railways. “Upgrading of systems resumed at the time of privatization,” the official said.
The “error” of the station master
As for the 59-year-old station master, prosecuted for “negligent homicide” and for causing “bodily injury”, he risks life in prison if his guilt is established.
He had to explain how a train carrying 342 passengers and ten railway employees had been allowed to use the same track as a freight convoy.
The government spokesman assured Thursday that “the error” had “been admitted by the station master himself” and his lawyer confirmed that he “recognized what he had done”.
Media, including the public television channel ERT, however highlighted his lack of experience since, according to their information, he had been appointed to this post only forty days ago after having worked at the Ministry of Education and followed three months training for his new duties.
Under the violence of the shock which occurred shortly before midnight (5 p.m. Eastern time), on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, the locomotives and the leading cars were pulverized and the drivers of the two trains killed on the spot.
Passengers described scenes of horror and chaos, amid shattered glass and debris as the train overturned.
US President Joe Biden sent his condolences.