(Larissa) The Greek government recognized “chronic weaknesses” on Thursday after the train disaster which killed at least 47 people on Tuesday evening, near Larissa in central Greece, whose station master admitted an “error” in court.
“The delays (in the modernization of the railways) have their origin in the chronic pathologies of the Greek public sector, in decades of weakness”, admitted Thursday the spokesman of the government Yannis Oikonomou during a point press.
The failures of the Greek public rail sector are pointed out after the head-on collision of two trains which had been on the same track for several kilometers. The accident caused some demonstrations by users in several cities in Greece.
The 59-year-old station master was arrested on Wednesday and prosecuted for “negligent homicide” and causing “bodily harm”.
He was to explain how a train carrying 342 passengers and ten railway employees, linking Athens to Thessaloniki in the north of the country, was able to be allowed to use the same track as a freight convoy.
Mr. Oikonomou assured Thursday that “the error was admitted by the station master himself” and his lawyer confirmed that he “recognizes what he has done”.
At the same time, the new Minister of Transport, Giorgos Gerapetritis, 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, submitted his resignation on Wednesday.
The accident killed 47 people, according to a spokesman for the Greek fire service. And search operations with 72 firefighters deployed, continued throughout the night.
“We continued (tonight) because time is against us. The more time passes, the less the chances (of finding survivors) are important, ”said a spokesperson for the firefighters to AFP.
Under the violence of the shock which occurred shortly before midnight (5 p.m. Eastern time), in the night from Tuesday to Wednesday in the Valley of Tempé, the locomotives and the wagons head were pulverized and the drivers of the two trains killed on the shot.
Passengers described scenes of horror and chaos, amid shattered glass and debris as the train overturned.
The train’s dining car caught fire shortly after the collision, with temperatures reaching 1,300 degrees, according to firefighters.
“Everything shows that the drama is due, unfortunately, mainly to a tragic human error,” said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Wednesday evening.
“The Train of Terror”
Recounting having met relatives of victims during a visit to the scene and then to the Larissa hospital, Kyriakos Mitsotakis said: “They asked me ‘why? ””.
“We owe them an honest answer,” he added in a brief recorded television intervention. He decreed a three-day national mourning.
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.
Residents demonstrated in Larissa carrying banners! “Privatization kills”. Demonstrations took place in Athens too, in front of the headquarters of the Hellenic Train company.
“It was the terror train,” Pavlos Aslanidis, whose son is missing and one of his friends, told reporters.
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 is since the year 2000 that the systems do not work, “he got carried away on the television channel ERT.
“A whole sick network”
Previously, he had also assured AFP that “no security system, remote control and traffic light were working”.
“It was a train full of students, young people in their twenties,” Costas Bargiotas, a doctor at Larissa hospital, told reporters. “It’s really shocking to see the wagons crumpled like paper.”
“It’s a nightmare what I lived […] I’m still shaking,” a passenger, Angelos, 22, told AFP at the scene of the accident.
“We felt the collision like a big earthquake,” he added. “Fortunately, we were in the penultimate car and we got out alive,” he said.
Some 500 people participated in the rescue, said the government spokesman.
Many bodies were charred and some passengers could only be identified through DNA samples.
In Larissa, where the injured were transported, the mayor, Apostolos Kalogiannis spoke of “floods of ambulances bringing burns, amputees, everything you can imagine”.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said one of the rescue team members working among the debris.
In Larissa, residents watched in silence before laying white roses in memory of the victims.
If found guilty, the station master faces life in prison.