There is disbelief after the biggest train accident in decades in Greece. At least 36 people died when a freight train collided with a passenger train. The two trains approached each other on the same track, the governor of the Thessaly region, Konstantinos Agorastos, said on Skai TV. According to initial assumptions, human error is likely to be the cause of the accident.
The first four carriages of the passenger train derailed, Agorastos said. The two cars at the front of the train caught fire and were almost completely destroyed. Many passengers suffered burns and were transported to hospitals.
Around 250 passengers were brought to safety. They were taken to Thessaloniki in buses. Local media reported that around 350 people were on board the passenger train.
Austrians should not be among the victims. “According to our current state of knowledge, no Austrian citizens are affected by the train accident in Greece,” according to the Foreign Ministry in Vienna.
Railway system obsolete
The railway system in Greece is outdated and needs modernization. Many routes are single track. Automatic control systems are often missing. Despite the modernization with new bridges and tunnels and two tracks along the entire 500-kilometer Athens-Thessaloniki route, there are significant problems with the electrical coordination of traffic control, according to state television.
“We’re driving from one section of the line to another by radio like in the old days. The station managers give us the green light,” said Kostas Genidounias, president of the train drivers’ union, on state radio. He was unable to say why this is happening and why no modern control system works. The Greek railways (Hellenic Train) are operated by the Italian state railway Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane (FS). Greece had sold the railway operator to the Italian railways in 2017 as part of its rescue program in the debt crisis.
The death toll could still rise. On Wednesday morning, the salvage work continued with cranes, heavy equipment and also with sniffer dogs. Rescue workers and reporters were stunned.
Transport Minister resigned
Greek Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis resigned yesterday a few hours after the accident. The current government took over the Greek railways three and a half years ago in a state that does not fit into the 21st century, Karamanlis said yesterday. Since then, everything has been done to improve this situation. “Unfortunately, these efforts were not enough to prevent such an accident. It is very difficult for all of us and for me personally.” When something so tragic happens, it is not possible to carry on as if nothing had happened.