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Politics

After Tragedy, EU Railways Agency Says Greek Trains Still Unsafe 

ATHENS – Sixteen months after a tragic train collision in Tempi that killed 57 passengers, the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA) has recommended the urgent implementation of safety measures, indicating that the trains still aren’t safe.

This recommendation came in a letter to the Railway Regulatory Authority (RAS), the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE), Italian-owned operator Hellenic Train, and the Ministry of Transport, among others, according to Kathimerini.

The ERA stated that the New Democracy government, which largely kept the investigation into the cause of the crash secret and was accused of a coverup—believed by most Greeks—should improve communication between station masters and drivers.

After the tragedy, a station master, who was reportedly poorly trained and on the job for only a few days, was blamed for the disaster. Several railway executives were also implicated, apart from the Italian company that runs the railways.

Then Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis resigned over the tragedy but claimed it wasn’t his fault, admitting that safety measures, including electronic systems, hadn’t been installed during his nearly four years in the position and blaming others.

ERA urged the immediate installation of the GSM-R radio communication system across the national railway system, as the government had promised to ensure the railways are safe, especially during the high tourist season.

The recommendations are supported by Greece’s National Aviation and Railway Accident Investigation Organization (EODASAAM), which also investigated the crash, although not until a year later.

The ERA has two members on the EODASAAM committee carrying out the investigation, and the two agencies said, “Even though the thorough investigation of the Tempi accident is still in progress, enough evidence has been collected to justify issuing this emergency recommendation.”

They added: “The transmission of security-related messages lacks structure (identification of interlocutors and locations), methodology (reading, correction of errors), and the use of internationally agreed-upon terminology and communication rules.”

Poor communications were believed to be a major reason for the crash, although other safety measures that could have prevented the crash weren’t implemented for years and still aren’t, prompting the ERA’s concern.

The two agencies said that communication between stationmasters and drivers in Greece is still primitive during the digital age, with Greece’s railways lagging far behind those of other European Union countries, to which they don’t connect.

ERA and EODASAAM noted the widespread use of open-channel VHF radios.

“Usage of the same radio as a permanent means of security-related communications between the stationmaster and drivers (…) results in important messages being interrupted in conversation or not being received clearly due to intense radio communication,” they said.

An official with OSE told the paper that Greece’s GSM-R system doesn’t work because trains don’t have radio terminals to pick up communications broadcast via the network of antennas, which has been installed.

“Some trains have them, others don’t,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. EODASAAM is just one of several agencies investigating last year’s crash at Tempi, but nobody has yet faced a trial.

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