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Greek Heroes of Tempi Railway Disaster to Be Honored in Vatican

Train railway accident in Tempi, Greece
On October 7, 2023, the Giuseppe Sciacca Awards that take place at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in the Vatican will honor the Greek students who saved lives in the Tempi railway disaster. Credit: AMNA

The Greek students who saved the lives of their fellow passengers in the Tempi railway disaster will be honored in the Vatican.

They were there during the tragedy, laying down their lives to save others. Nearly eight months following the train accident, two Greek students are being honored for their actions. Despite the passage of time, memories of the national tragedy in Tempi remain.

The two Greek students, who demonstrated outstanding courage, chose to remain at the site of the train wreck despite having had the chance to leave during those chaotic first moments. Rather, they fought to free the injured who had been trapped in hopes of saving as many lives as possible.

Who are the Greek students honored in the Vatican?

The Volunteerism and Social Solidarity Award will be given to 20-year-old Andreas Alikaniotis and 19-year-old Angelos Tsiamouras who sacrificially rescued dozens of people from the burning train at the end of last February in Tempi following the deadly railway disaster.

The young students, who rushed to help whomever they could, will be honored on Saturday, October 7, 2023 at the Aula Magna at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in the Vatican. The annual ceremony of the “Vexillum Giuseppe Sciacca” International Awards will take place there.

Aside from the two students, the Giuseppe Sciacca Awards will also honor Professor of Pediatrics – Endocrinology Georgios Chrousos with the Medical Science Prize in the presence of the illustrious Cardinal Ryamond Leo Burke.

The Tempi railway disaster

On February 28, 2023, two trains collided nearly halfway between the Greek villages of Tempi and Evangelismos in the Thessaly area. The InterCity 62 passenger train collided with an intermodal goods train, killing fifty-seven people.

The tragic crash involved 342 passengers, ten onboard railroad employees on the passenger train, and two staff members on the freight train.

This was the deadliest rail accident in Greek history. It was also the deadliest rail accident to strike Europe in the past ten years.

It was found that, despite the freight train already being on the track, the IC62 passenger train, which had also passed warning signs, had been incorrectly permitted to travel on that very same track.

Young students comprised the majority of those who had lost their lives. Many of them had gathered in the dining car at the front of the train after returning from a three-day vacation.

Why did the Tempi railway disaster occur?

Experts have said that the accident was probably caused by human error. The president of the train drivers’ association, Kostas Genidounias, revealed that the electronic systems, used throughout Europe to warn drivers of danger ahead, had not been functioning for years.

“Nothing works, everything is done manually,” he said, emphasizing that neither the indicators, traffic lights, nor electronic traffic control had been working. “We are ‘in manual mode’ throughout the Athens-Thessaloniki network.”

The neglect of the remote signaling systems on the Greek railway network is one of the major causes of the train disaster in Greece which, according to official numbers, claimed the lives of at least fifty-seven people.

Although the station master at Larissa seems to have made fatal decisions on the night of the accident, the whole railway system was archaic. Remote surveillance and signaling systems, which control train traffic and guide drivers, had not been functioning properly for years.

Larissa station had a local signaling system that tracked trains for a distance of about five kilometers (three miles). This means that, in order to cover gaps in the system, station masters communicated with each other and drivers by radio. Signals were manually operated.

Railway unions blame the train wreck on years of underinvestment and understaffing—a legacy of Greece’s decade-long debt crisis.

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