The station master involved in the worst train disaster in Greek history will appear in court today as mass protests erupted following the crash that killed at least 57 people.
Thousands of protesters have demonstrated across the country since Tuesday’s collision between a passenger train and a freight train, as public anger intensified over the government’s failure to manage the rail network.
The 59-year-old station master in Larissa, central Greece, has admitted responsibility for the accident, which saw the two trains run on the same track for several kilometres.
The station master was devastated but ‘there has been convergent negligence by many other factors,’ his lawyer Stefanos Pantzartzidis said
The train was carrying many students returning from a holiday weekend and at least nine young students at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki were among the dead, while 26 others were injured.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis who is also celebrating his birthday today and is also seeking re-election this spring, blamed the disaster on “tragic human error”.
But protests blaming government mismanagement continued in the capital Athens and several major cities across Greece on Friday, with more planned for the weekend.
“What happened was not an accident, it was a crime,” Sophia Hatzopoulou, 23, a philosophy student in Thessaloniki, told AFP visibly angry. “We cannot watch all of this happen and remain indifferent.”
She added that she and her classmates “knew people who were killed or injured.”
“It’s like a part of us is lost.”
The station master must appear in court for negligent homicide. He faces life imprisonment if convicted, but his lawyer argued other factors were at play.
“My client has assumed his share of the responsibility,” lawyer Stefanos Pantzartzidis said on Thursday. “But you shouldn’t focus on a tree when there is a forest behind it.”
The country’s public broadcaster ERT reported that the station manager had been appointed to the post just 40 days earlier – and after just three months of training.
Thousands of people gathered outside the Athens headquarters of operators Hellenic Train – which took over network operations in 2017 – on Friday to protest decades of failure to improve the safety of the rail network, despite close calls in recent times. years.
Hundreds of people observed a minute of silence in front of the Greek parliament in tribute to the victims of the disaster.
During the rally in Syntagma Square, next to parliament, officers fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters while throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.
Around 3,000 people took part in the demonstration.
A similar number demonstrated in Thessaloniki – Greece’s second city – where police reported clashes on Thursday with protesters throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.
Demonstrations also took place in other Greek cities on Friday: around 700 marched to Larissa, the town closest to the site of the disaster, while 500 demonstrated in the university town of Patras, in the south-west. of the Peloponnese, according to the police.
Roubini Leontari, the chief coroner at Larissa General Hospital, told ERT on Thursday that more than 10 people were still missing, including two Cypriots.
Greek rail services were brought to a standstill on Thursday by striking workers arguing that mismanagement of the network by successive administrations had contributed to the fatal collision.
This strike continued on Friday and is expected to continue for another 48 hours.
Rail unions say safety issues on the Athens-Thessaloniki rail line have been known for years.
Legal sources have suggested that investigators are considering criminal charges against members of Hellenic Train management.
Police seized audio files and other items during a raid at Larissa train station in central Greece, where the crash occurred, a judicial source said.
For decades, Greece’s 2,552 km (1,585 mile) rail network has been plagued by mismanagement, poor maintenance and outdated equipment.
After the country’s transport minister resigned following the accident, his replacement, Giorgos Gerapetritis, promised a “comprehensive assessment of the political system and the state”.
Safety systems on the line are still not fully automated, five years after Greek public rail operator TrainOSE was privatized and sold to Italy’s Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane and became Hellenic Train.