The EU’s European Railway Agency (ERA) has been warning successive governments in Greece since at least 2014 about safety gaps in the Greek railway system, it emerged on Tuesday.
ERA head Josef Doppelbauer, speaking to Kathimerini newspaper, said that the first warning was issued “in 2014, at least. And we repeat these reports every two years.”
“Over the years we have reported on various aspects of the issue. We have a legal obligation to produce a report every two years at European level, based on the information we receive from member-states. We have published the rankings based on the statistics on rail mortality in the member-states’ railways,” Doppelbauer told Kathimerini.
For years, he stressed, Greece has been ranked among the countries with high mortality rates. “This fact is a reminder each time that there are open issues that needs to be resolved within the Greek system,” he noted.
The ERA chief told the Greek daily that within the framework of the agency’s responsibilities, it audits the Railways Regulatory Authority (RRA), and has identified a number of shortcomings and made a number of observations.
“We have shared these with the Greek authorities, who have responded with an action plan which should be put in place. We have also raised concerns around the issue of the existence of an official body of inquiry into rail accidents,” he added.
Railway safety in Greece compromised
This follows reports that successive Greek governments neglected the remote signaling systems on the Greek railway network. These systems had not been functioning properly for years.
Larissa station had a local signaling system that tracked trains for a distance of about 5 km (3 miles), government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou admitted on Monday. That meant station masters had to communicate with each other and drivers by radio to cover gaps, and signals were operated manually.
According to the OSE, the Greek national railway company which owns, maintains and operates all railway infrastructure, since 2015 remote control had “significantly degraded” after a fire in the Litochoro area, north of Larissa.
Since then “it practically ceased to function,” OSE said in an announcement on Monday.
It added that a second fire that broke out in the area of Zahari, Larissa in July 2019 destroyed cables and equipment. “Remote surveillance and signaling systems went completely out of order and were abolished.”