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Society

Grieving Gives Way to Fury After Greece’s Deadly Head-on Train Crash

ATHENS –  Rage grew across Greece, along with mourning, in the wake of a deadly head-on train collision, the government and railway company targets of protests and an audio recording showing one of the train drivers told to ignore a red light.

The crash between a passenger train headed from Athens to Thessaloniki and an oncoming cargo train, killed at least 57, with 56 missing and 48 hospitalized, including six with serious injuries and burns, said state broadcaster ERT.

Demonstrators poured onto the streets in the capital and Thessaloniki, the country’s second-largest city, and destination for the 342 on board, including students going to college there and festival goers returning from the annual carnival celebrations.

A woman holds a flare during a protest in the port city of Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Thursday, March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)
A girl lights a candle, in memory of the trains collision victims, outside the train station of Larissa city, about 355 kilometres (222 miles) north of Athens, Greece, Thursday, March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Vaggelis Kousioras)

Protesters clashed with police in Athens, the country’s transport minister resigned in the wake of the tragedy and a rail workers’ union stayed on strike, accusing the government of “disrespect” in the sector, said CNN.

https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/02/europe/greece-train-crash-larissa-protests-intl/index.html

After a train station manager in Larissa was arrested, Greek authorities released dispatch audio recordings showing one of the train drivers told to go through a red light with no explanation why.

“Proceed through red traffic light exit until traffic light entry of Neon Poron,” the station master is heard saying.

“Vasilis, am I good to go?” the train driver responds, to which the train master says “Go, go.”

In a second conversation, the station master can be heard ordering an employee to keep one of the trains on the same track.

“Shall I turn it now?” the employee asks. “No, no, because 1564 is on this route,” the station master says.

A young woman cries as she stands next to flowers and candles, in memory of the victims of the trains’ collision, at the train station in the port city of Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Thursday, March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

The unnamed station master in Larissa, said to have been on the job only a month and who said automated systems weren’t working, was charged with mass deaths through negligence and causing grievous bodily harm through negligence.

Upon arrest he blamed the collision on a technical fault, though later admitted to “making a mistake,” the report said although the newspaper Kathimerini said he knew for 17 minutes, after being alerted by another station master, the trains were Protesters gathered outside the central Athens headquarters of Greek rail company Hellenic Train in a demonstration organized by student and worker unions and ran into squadrons of police, a clash erupting.

Most of the passengers involved in the accident were young, a local hospital told ERT and photos of them fueled the anger over the accident that came just as the New Democracy government, sliding in polls, was to set the date for elections.

Relatives of the missing were agonizing and told to give DNA samples to match against remains that might be found in the manged and burned wreckage that crews were going through inch-by-inch in recovery efforts.

A young woman sits near flowers and candles, in memory of the victims of the trains’ collision, at the train station in the port city of Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Thursday, March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

LEFT IN THE DARK

Dimitris Bournazis, trying to get news about his father and brother, told Greek media no one has helped him and that he was trying to contact the company to find out where on the train his relatives were sitting at the time of the crash. He said he called the offices of Hellenic Train three times but no one has called him back.

“The Prime Minister and the Health Minister came here yesterday. Why? To do what? To explain what? Where are they today?” Bournazis told Greek broadcaster SKAI, adding that “no one has given us any information, no one knows how many people really were inside.”

“We cannot only blame one person for this because of a mistake. Where is everyone else now? They all await the election to speak,” he said.

Speaking to ERT, passenger Andreas Alikaniotis, who was in the second carriage during the collision, said that after the crash,“What we did was to break the glass, which was already cracked, and to throw the luggage outside the carriage, so we can land somewhere soft,” describing how he helped around 10 people escape.

Mirela Ruci shows to the media a photo of his 22-year old missing son Denis Ruci, outside a hospital in Larissa city, about 355 kilometres (222 miles) north of Athens, Greece, Friday, March 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

“We jumped 3 to 4 meters,” he added, “first the more seriously injured and then us with lighter injuries.” He said that he remembers pulling up two or three girls and helping them get to the window to jump. “There was panic,” he added.

Greece has the worst railway safety and fatality record in the 27-member European Union, the system so neglected for decades that in 2017 it was privatized and sold to Italy’s Italy’s Italy’s Ferrovie dello Stato to run.

The Greek Federation of Rail  Workers decided unanimously to launcha 24-hour strike to bring attention to what it said was poor working conditions and chronic understaffing going on for years, including under the New Democracy government.

Panos Ruci hugs his wife Mirela Ruci as they wait to hear news about their 22-year old missing son Denis Ruci, outside a hospital in Larissa city, about 355 kilometres (222 miles) north of Athens, Greece, Friday, March 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

“More permanent staff, better training and mainly the implementation of modern security systems, are permanently thrown in the bin,” it said despite the economy growing almost 6 percent in 2022 during the waning COVID-19 pandemic.

As he resigned, Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis said the railway system the government inherited was “not up to 21st Century standards” and that he tried to fix it, without explaining where $117 million in European Union aid to modernize the Athens-Thessaloniki line went.

In a TV address after he went to the crash scene, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said it was was “mainly” due “to tragic human error,” and took no responsibility for himself or his government as of now.

 

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