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Society

In Greece, Shock Over Deadly Train Tragedy Turns to Anger, Grief

ATHENS – Even as Greeks wailed and mourned over a head-on train collision that killed at least 47 people – many of them young people returning to Thessaloniki after carnival celebrations – anger pulsated over why it happened.

It was the first time since 2019 that the annual festivities took place after being locked out during the Coronavirus pandemic and people travel especially to the country’s third-largest city on the west coast, Patra for the biggest street parties, especially young revelers.

There were 342 people on board the passenger train that left from Athens, heading straight into an oncoming cargo train after a station master reportedly admitted an error in having them on the same tracks but also blaming system errors as rail workers said warning systems often don’t work.

“Across Greece, anger mounted over the country’s dismal train safety record. The two trains had raced toward each other for 12 minutes before colliding, according to the head of the Greek rail workers’ union,” the New York Times said.

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/02/world/europe/greece-train-crash.html

A railway official said that electronic monitoring and warning systems along the track didn’t work properly, partly because of budget problems and partly because the system was not fully operational to prevent such accidents.

The government has announced an independent investigation into the cause of the disaster but gave no timetable and protesters took to the streets of Athens outside the headquarters of Hellenic Train, clashing with police.

Recovery crews were painstakingly going through the twisted and burned wreckage looking for pieces of people and ashes after a fire tore through the the first few cars with temperatures as high as 1600 degrees Fahrenheit, 1000 degrees higher than for cremation.

The newspaper reported the personal side of the tragedy as authorities were trying to identify victims, saying that one of the victims was Vaios Vlachos, whose remains hadn’t been found and that is girlfriend was in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU.)

They had gone to the carnival and dressed a marble busts before hustling to catch the train home from Athens so that they could get to work the next morning, passengers not realizing the oncoming cargo train.

THEY’RE GONE

“It’s wrenching,” his brother Evangelos told the paper, adding that as time passes, he loses hopes of finding his brother alive. “Every hour feels like poison,” he said.

The tragedy came just as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was about to set the date for spring elections, which had been seen as soon as April 9, a week before Easter but that would coincide with memorial services for the dead.

The newspaper said it could have a bearing on Mitsotakis’ hopes of staying in power, Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis immediately quitting and rail workers union officials saying they had warned the railway system was understaffed, neglected and systems often didn’t work.

Hellenic Train, a unit of Italy’s Ferrovie dello Stato which acquired passenger and freight operations in a 2017 privatization, said it was working with authorities on the investigation, no word what improvements, if any, it had made.

Greece is expected to hold a general election in the coming weeks, and while it was not clear if or how the accident would influence it, there were signs that the crash was reverberating in a country that has the worst train safety record in Europe.

Vlachos and his girlfriend, who have been together for years, headed to the capital and usually traveled by car but took the train to save money because gasoline prices are so high. “And because they thought it was safer,” his brother said.

Because of the combustion and carnage, recovery workers said it was impossible to know what was left and families waiting for word were grieving.

“We don’t know what happened to her,” Christina Mitska said of her 22-year-old sister, Ifigeneia Mitska. “No one has seen her.”

Vlachos’ brother said the tragedy wouldn’t have happened if the warning system worked to alert the train engineers they were heading right toward each other, no word on if the system has a central monitoring board in place.

“If we have lost him,” he said of his brother, “I don’t think that the state or any state can make up for something like that.”

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