Greece’s prime minister apologizes for deadly train crash as unions, activists protest

Greece: Police use tear gas on protesters as deadly train crash protests continue

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis apologized for any responsibility Greece’s government may bear for the deadliest train crash in the country’s history. A stationmaster facing charges gave his account of the events leading up to the tragedy.

Greek media have reported that the automated signalling system in the crash area was not functioning, leading to the stationmaster’s mistake.

The prime minister promised a swift investigation of the collision and said the new Greek transportation minister would release a safety improvement plan. Once a new parliament is in place, a commission also will be named to investigate decades of mismanagement of the country’s railway system, Mitsotakis said.

He had been expected to announce an election date on Friday but postponed the announcement after the train disaster.

Greece’s railways long suffered from chronic mismanagement, including lavish spending on projects that were eventually abandoned or significantly delayed, Greek media have reported in several exposes. With state railway company Hellenic Railways billions of euros in debt, maintenance work was put off, according to the news reports.

A retired railway union leader, Panayotis Paraskevopoulos, told the Greek newspaper Kathimerini that the signalling system in the area monitored by the Larissa stationmaster malfunctioned six years ago and was never repaired.

The stationmaster testified Sunday before a prosecutor and an examining magistrate in Larissa to answer charges that include several counts of negligent homicide, bodily harm, and disruption of transport.

Police and prosecutors have not identified him in line with Greek law. However, Hellenic Railways, also known as OSE, revealed the stationmaster’s name Saturday in an announcement suspending the company inspector who appointed him. The stationmaster also has been suspended.

Greek media had reported that the stationmaster, a former porter with the railway company, was transferred to a Ministry of Education desk job in 2011 when Greece’s creditors demanded reductions in the number of public employees. The 59-year-old was transferred back to the railway company in mid-2022 and started a 5-month course to train as a station master.

Upon completing the course, he was assigned to Larissa on Jan. 23, according to his own Facebook post. However, Greek media reported that he spent the next month rotating among other stations before returning to Larissa in late February, days before the Feb. 28 collision.

On Sunday, railway unions organized a protest rally in central Athens, according to authorities, attended by about 12,000 people.

Five people were arrested, and seven police officers were injured when a group of more than 200 masked, black-clad individuals started throwing pieces of marble, rocks, bottles and firebombs at officers, according to the Athens police department.

Police at the scene responded with “limited use of the necessary, appropriate means” — tear gas and stun grenades – and chased suspects along a central avenue in the city.

In Thessaloniki, about 3,000 people attended two protest rallies. The larger one, organized by left-wing activists, marched to a government building. No incidents were reported at that event.

Copyright Greekcitytimes 2024