top of page
Search
  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Train crash in Greece kills at least 38


A train with about 350 passengers collided with a freight train near the city of Larissa in northern Greece.

By Niki Kitsantonis and Jason Horowitz

Rescue workers in Greece frantically searched for survivors through flattened carriages and smoking wreckage Wednesday after a high-speed, head-on collision between a freight train and a passenger train killed at least 38 people and injured scores of others in what appeared to be the country’s deadliest rail accident.


Kostas A. Karamanlis, the Greek transport minister, announced hours after the crash that he would resign, saying in a statement that “when something so tragic happens, it’s impossible to continue as if nothing had happened.”


“It’s a fact that we inherited the Greek railway in a state that is not fitting for the 21st century,” he added. “In those 3 1/2 years we made every effort to improve this reality. Unfortunately, those efforts were not adequate to avert such a tragedy.”


It was not immediately clear what led to the crash, which happened as the passenger train traveled from Athens to the northern city of Thessaloniki just before midnight Tuesday. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told reporters after visiting the crash site that “tragic human error” had led to the crash but gave no further details.


Greek police on Wednesday afternoon arrested the station manager in Larissa, about 20 miles south of the crash site, without giving a reason. Greek news media reported that the station manager had directed the freight train onto the same track as the passenger train, but authorities declined to confirm or deny those reports.


The fire service said there had been two people on the freight train and 342 passengers and 10 railway staff members on the passenger train. Many of the passengers were college students and other young people, Greece’s health minister, Thanos Plevris, told reporters. Greek news media reported that many of the young passengers had been returning from carnival celebrations in Athens. “It is a terrible process for parents and relatives,” Plevris said.


Survivors described scenes of horror, with the impact sending passengers hurtling through train car windows or trapping them under buckled cars.


“Windows were shattering and people were screaming,” a young man, who was not identified, told a television crew after surviving the crash. “There was panic in the carriage. A huge chunk of metal from the other train had come through one of the windows.”


Video of the crash, which occurred moments after the passenger train emerged from under a highway underpass, showed the graffiti-scrawled passenger cars derailed, overturned and burned to a shell.


“Carriage 1 and 2 no longer exist, and the third has derailed,” Costas Agorastos, the regional governor of the Thessaly area, told the Greek channel Skai Television.


As 85 people were taken to hospitals with injuries, Mitsotakis hurried to visit the site, and trepidation grew about a rising death toll. Greeks began to look for answers.


A railway official, who insisted on speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss the crash, said electronic monitoring and warning systems along the track did not work properly. That was in part because of budget problems and in part because the system was not fully operational to prevent such accidents, the official said.


Yiannis Ditsas, head of the Greek rail workers union, told Greek television that the two trains had raced toward each other for 12 minutes before colliding.


Experts noted that the country already had the worst record for rail safety in Europe and that endemic problems of maintenance had not been addressed for decades, even before austerity measures enforced by Europe after Greece’s 2009 financial crisis led to drastic budget cuts.


Outside the Larissa General Hospital, where most of the injured were being treated and coroners were working to identify the dead, relatives awaited news about missing loved ones.


Two women, Elisavet, 60, and Georgia, 59, were sitting on the steps outside the hospital awaiting word about their sister, who worked as a ticket inspector and had been on the Athens-Thessaloniki train.


“The worst thing is this awful waiting,” said Georgia, who had arrived in Larissa in the morning from Corfu. “They won’t tell us anything,” she added, drawing deeply on a cigarette.


Elisavet, who had traveled from Athens and like her sister declined to give her surname because she did not want more exposure, said, “The myth about the safety of traveling by train has finally collapsed.”


Karamanlis, who choked up earlier in the day while talking to reporters at the site of the crash, said later that he was resigning “as the minimum expression of respect to the memory of those who were so unfairly lost” and that he was “assuming responsibility for the chronic ailments of the Greek state and the political system.”


The prime minister said he had appointed Giorgos Gerapetritis, who is a close aide, as a temporary successor to Karamanlis. The minister was given the task of setting up a cross-party independent committee to investigate the cause of the disaster, and Mitsotakis said that the Greek judiciary would also do its work.


Greece is expected to hold a general election in the coming weeks, probably in early April. It was unclear if or how the tragedy would reverberate across the political landscape. But the crash clearly struck a nerve. The toll surpassed that of a 1968 collision involving two passenger trains near Corinth, about 40 miles west of Athens, which left 34 people dead.


A spokesperson for the Greek police, Constantina Dimoglidou, said that the process of identifying the dead had begun, and she asked relatives of passengers to call a hotline for information.


Asked by reporters about the cause of the crash, Plevris said that it was not the right time to focus on the circumstances of the disaster.


“The priority now is to nurse the injured and support the families who have lost their loved ones. Everything else we will deal with afterward,” he said.


But experts and critics quickly raised their voices Wednesday.


“Nothing works,” Kostas Genidounias, president of the association of Greek train drivers, told state television.


“Everything is done manually,” he said, adding that neither the signals nor the traffic control system worked. “If they had been working, the drivers would have seen the red light, and the trains would have stopped 500 meters away from each other,” he added, noting that he and colleagues had frequently reported malfunctioning systems recently.


The country’s railway officials have been aware of the issue.


“Preventive maintenance has been a problematic issue for years now,” Spyros Pateras, the president of the Hellenic Railways Organization, the body that oversees rail infrastructure in Greece, said at a transport conference last year.


He said that while the government had allocated 25 million euros (about $26.5 million) for maintenance, funding and staff have “been lacking in recent years.”

20 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page