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Anger Grows as Greece Counts Its Dead from the Train Disaster

Greece train disaster
Many in Greece see the crash as an accident that had been waiting to happen. Credit: AMNA

Anger is growing in Greece following the train disaster on Tuesday that has caused the death of at least 57 people with dozens still missing.

Many in Greece see the crash as an accident that had been waiting to happen, and the rail union blamed successive governments’ “disrespect” towards Greek railways for leading to this “tragic result”.

Railway and metro workers are on strike. In a statement, unions said the stoppage – which is to be extended until Saturday – had been called to protest against the “disrespect that [successive] governments have shown towards the Greek railroads which led to the tragic result in Tempe”.

Unions say cost-cutting, staff shortages, antiquated equipment and impoverished infrastructure have plagued the network for years.

In a statement, the Panhellenic Federation of Rail Workers (POS) said that it would draw up a report on all outstanding issues of the Greek national railway system and plan to meet with the Transport ministry and political parties by next week at the latest.

In their meetings with the government, Federation representatives said they will demand a specific timetable for implementing changes and introducing safety measures to prevent another deadly accident.

The meetings will be followed by a press conference, POS said, “to brief the entire Greek society and the railroad sector on all these things the Federation has been warning about all these years about safety but was never listened to seriously.”

Hellenic Train was among the many public utilities privatized at the height of Greece’s long-running debt crisis.

Protests in Greece after train disaster

Greece train disaster
Demonstrations against the neglect of the Greek railways took place in Athens and other cities. Credit: AMNA

“We are all devastated by this tragic incident,” Giannis Oikonomou, the government spokesperson, told a news conference. “The loss and trauma this caused, the physical and mental trauma of survivors, and the angst of this country is huge, and it’s difficult to manage, particularly now.”

As rescue teams resumed the painstaking process of looking for the dead in the worst-damaged wagons, Oikonomou said authorities would look into the causes of the accident and delays in implementing rail projects, which he said were “rooted in chronic ills of the Greek public [sector] … which the government has not managed to eradicate”.

Highlighting the growing sense of fury over the crash, outside Tempi in central Greece, a protest took place on Thursday outside Hellenic Train’s offices followed by a march to Parliament, organized by the Piraeus Labor Center, despite pouring rain.

A minute-long silence was held outside the company’s officers and a poem was read, while the Center’s president Markos Bekris delivered remarks on the train accident. “We don’t want funerals at public expense; we want life and security,” he said.

On Wednesday protesters hurled rocks at the Athens rail company offices before being dispersed by volleys of teargas fired by riot police.

Protests also broke out in other major Greek cities. In Thessaloniki and Patras, thousands of angry citizens gathered on Thursday, in some cases throwing stones and molotov cocktails, although police reported calm by the evening’s end.

Investigation into train disaster in Greece begins

Supreme Court prosecutor Isidoros Dogiakos has called on the investigating Larissa prosecutor to broaden his search in all directions to identify those responsible for the deadly rail collision in central Greece just before midnight Tuesday.

He stressed that the aim of the investigation into the circumstances that led to the passenger train heading to the northern city of Thessaloniki colliding with a freight train coming in the opposite direction is to pinpoint those responsible.

“Whoever they are, wherever they may belong, wherever they are from, whatever they represent,” Dogiakos said, signaling that investigations will also focus on failures in the security systems, the appointment of an inexperienced station master to such a key position, and others.

Is the station master a scapegoat?

A Hellenic Train station master in Larissa who was arrested on Wednesday in connection with the train accident was given until Saturday to prepare his defense.

The 59-year-old station master, who assumed duty in the position only 40 days ago, after a year’s training, is considered responsible for the movement of the trains that ended up on the same track heading in opposite directions.

“On a human level, he’s devastated. He reflects upon what happened and cannot bear the burden of responsibility. He accepts the responsibility that belongs to him,” his lawyer said.

“But it is important that we do not miss the forest for the trees. And here, there is a ‘forest’ of responsibilities,” he added.

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