ATHENS – Greece’s major opposition SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras visited the Larissa station where an automated railway safety system was shown on TV to be dismantled and said it was the cause for the head-on collision killing 57.
Those images and railway workers who said the system was inoperable contradicted claims by the New Democracy government it was working when a train carrying 350 people from Athens slammed into a cargo train coming from Thessaloniki.
After a period of mourning and setting aside campaigning ahead of elections that were pushed back, SYRIZA and New Democracy officials have taken to blaming each other for their roles in the tragedy.
A stationmaster on the job only four days, and who the railways regulatory body said didn’t receive proper training, admitted a mistake but said automated systems weren’t working, leaving only manual switching.
After a TV crew went to the station and showed only debris in a room where the government said the system was working, Tsipras went to see for himself along with train drivers and station masters.
Tsipras, said a SYRIZA statement without indicating whether there were any reporters there to ask questions, spoke with workers there about the conditions, “as well as the fail-safes that existed until 2019 which were later abolished or allowed to fall into decline.”
That was the year when New Democracy took over in July elections in ousting the Leftists who said they had put the system into operation, which was disputed at a parliamentary committee hearing.
“It was confirmed that that the telemanagement centre of Larissa, which ‘saw’ train traffic from Domokos to Platy, the point of the accident, and had been in operation until June 2019, has been totally destroyed and remains out of order until today,” said SYRIZA
The statement added, “It is the same centre which the government claimed was operating fully, so that it attributed the accident exclusively to human error,” said the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency AMNA.
PLAYING THE BLAME GAME
The party also asked why the center, “which has not worked since it was damaged by a fire in 2019, was never repaired,” and said it wants “truth and justice” over the tragedy, with elections on the horizon.
Tsipras said that’s “the demand of all Greek society and primarily of those who lost their loved ones in such a tragic and unexpected way. The truth must come to light. To conceal the truth is an insult to the people that unjustly lost their lives.”
At almost the same time, former Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis, who quit after the tragedy, said the that “inaccuracies and lies” obscured facts and said reports there was no telemanagement system at the station were “absolutely false,” despite the video evidence.
Karamanlis submitted documents showing that the contract for the telemanagement and signalling system (717) had been only 18 percent complete when he assumed office and had progressed to 70 percent by the end, without explaining why it could be working if it wasn’t completed.
Christos Spirtzis, who was Transport Minister under SYRIZA from 2016-19 told the parliamentary committee looking into the disaster about “personalized responsibilities that led to the decline of the rail network.”
He said that a contract to overhaul the telemanagement and signalling system was flawed and incompatible with new technology, necessitating the signing of an additional contract to fix it.
He claimed that SYRIZA had handed over a fully installed system that only needed certification to operate but that without another contract it wouldn’t work although he said it would.
Tsipras, while blaming New Democracy for negligence that cost 57 lives, has not mentioned during his early campaigning the 103 people who died in July 23, 2018 wildfires for which his government was blamed for not having a disaster response system in place.
As the two parties were dueling and pointing fingers at each other, Dimitris Liotsios, a forensic expert, testified in a trial of former officials during the time of the wildfires that nearly destroyed the seaside village of Mati that firefighter aircraft never deployed and that they “did not even attempt to fly.”
He also said there were discrepancies between the handwritten logbook entries of the Forest Fire Coordination Center and statements of firefighting pilots, apparently suggesting a coverup to prevent their being blamed.