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Greek Station Master Left Alone to Manage Entire Network for “20 cursed minutes”

train railway accident in Tempi, Greece
A Greek station master has been arrested in connection with the Trmpi railway disaster. However, growing anger and scrutiny is also being directed at the Greek government. Credit: Amna

The lawyer of the Greek station master responsible for the network when the fatal railway accident at Tempi occurred, has spoken out since his client was jailed pending trial on Sunday. According to the station master, he was improperly left to manage the network alone, in violation of safety regulations.

Stefanos Pantzardzidis, the 59-year-old Greek station master’s legal representative, said that his client was devastated and had assumed responsibility “proportionate to him”, but other factors were also at play, without elaborating.

Protests over the deadly railway collision, that led to the deaths of 57 people and many more injured, continue to gather pace in Athens and several other major urban areas. Now that the official period of mourning is over, the Greek government is bracing itself for the potential political fallout from the disaster as sorrow turns to anger.

Greek station master’s lawyer responds to arrest

“For about 20 cursed minutes he was responsible for the safety of the whole of central Greece,” said Stefanos Pantzardzidis, in reference to the time his client was left in charge of the railway network.

The station master, who has been named as Vassilis Samaras, is reported to have said that on the night of the incident, at around 11 pm, his colleagues left their posts, leaving him to manage the network on his own.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that a “tragic human error” was probably to blame but there is growing anger and speculation surrounding the alleged mismanagement of Greece’s railway network.

Safety concerns

According to data from the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA), the Greek Regulatory Authority for Railways (RAS), and the Event and Accident Research Committee of the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE), Greece’s railway safety may be among the worst in Europe.

Statistics from 2018 indicate that “Greece ranks first in the EU with regards to the number of deaths from rail accidents in proportion to the kilometers traveled by trains in the country during that year.”

What is now being suggested by some, is that the disaster on February 28, may have been a symptom of systemic safety problems with the Greek railway network, rather than an isolated tragic incident.

Growing anger

With the official period of mourning for the victims of the disaster and their families now officially at an end, sorrow is turning to anger, and the weight of blame may very well fall on the government if recent protests are a reliable indicator of public opinion.

On Sunday, thousands of protestors gathered in Syntagma Square to express solidarity with the victims and anger over the incident, which is increasingly being leveled at the government. Police estimated 12,000 people attended the protest.

Some demonstrators held up banners with the caption “Down with killer governments”.

Railway workers have expressed similar sentiments. Employees from Hellenic Train have been on strike since March 1. “It’s time for those who managed the fate of the railway to give explanations,” said a spokesman for the Panhellenic Railway Federation.

It remains to be seen where the weight of the blame ultimately lands. Much will likely depend on the legal trial of the arrested station master. However, growing scrutiny is directed at the government and the authorities in charge of Greece’s railway network.

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