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Station Master in Greece Train Crash Delays Court Appearance

ATHENS — The station master involved in Greece’s deadliest train crash is set to appear before a prosecutor and an examining magistrate Sunday after his deposition was postponed Saturday.

The 59-year-old is accused of placing two trains running in opposite directions on the same track. At least 57 people died when a passenger train slammed into a freight carrier late Tuesday at Tempe, 380 kilometers (235 miles) north of Athens.

The government has blamed human error, and the station master faces multiple charges of negligent homicide and bodily harm, as well as disrupting transportation. Days of protests against the perceived lack of safety measures in Greece’s rail network have taken place in the wake of the disaster.

Stephanos Pantzartzidis, the station master’s lawyer, told reporters waiting outside the courthouse Saturday in the central Greek city of Larissa that “very important new evidence emerged that force us to request a postponement” in his client’s deposition.

Wreaths are placed outside an Orthodox church during the funeral of 23-year old Ifigenia Mitska, at Giannitsa town, northern Greece, Saturday, March 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

The lawyer didn’t elaborate. Per Greek law, authorities have not released the accused station master’s name.

Also Saturday, one of the three members of an expert panel named by the government to investigate and issue a report on the collision resigned after opposition parties and some media outlets panned his appointment.

Thanasis Ziliaskopoulos served as chairman and CEO of the country’s train operator from 2010 to 2015 and is currently the chairman of the Greek agency in charge of privatizing state-owned assets.

Funerals for some of the people killed in the crash, many of them in their teens and 20s, took place in northern Greece. The force of the crash and a resulting fire complicated the task of identifying the victims, which is being done through next-of-kin DNA testing.

Mourners follow the funeral procession of 23-year old Ifigenia Mitska, at Giannitsa town, northern Greece, Saturday, March 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

Some families have yet to receive the remains of their loved ones. Police said 54 victims have been positively identified.

Rallies protesting the conditions that led to the tragedy continued Saturday. A peaceful rally in central Athens organized by the Communist Party’s youth wing drew over a thousand people.

A rally organized by a rail workers’ union is scheduled for Sunday morning, also in Athens. The union, which is organizing rolling labor strikes, has asked members of the public to take part.

Greek media have published damning accounts of mismanagement and infrastructure neglect in Greece’s railways.

A former head of the railway employees’ union, Panayotis Paraskevopoulos, told Greek newspaper Kathimerini that the signaling system in the area where the accident occurred malfunctioned six years ago and was never repaired.

A hearse carrying the coffin of 23-year old Ifigenia Mitska arrives at a church, at Giannitsa town, northern Greece, Saturday, March 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)
Demonstrators release lanterns during a protest in front of the parliament, in Athens, Saturday, March 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

Station masters and train drivers communicate via two-way radio and track switches are operated manually over parts of the main rail line from the capital Athens to the northern city of Thessaloniki.

The station master, who formerly worked as a porter at the state-owned Hellenic Railways, or OSE, was transferred to a desk job at the Ministry of Education in 2011, when Greece’s creditors demanded personnel cuts in railways.

He transferred back to the company in June 2022 and was appointed station master in Larissa, an important railway hub, in January, after five months’ training.

Police early Friday searched a rail coordination office in Larissa, removing evidence as part of an ongoing investigation.

The since privatized train and freight operator, renamed Hellenic Train, is now owned by Italy’s Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane.

 

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