Albany Times Union
Stationmaster charged in Greece
ATHENS, Greece — A stationmaster accused of causing Greece’s deadliest train disaster was charged with negligent homicide and jailed pending trial Sunday, while Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis apologized for any responsibility Greece’s government may bear for the tragedy.
An examining magistrate and a prosecutor agreed that multiple counts of homicide as well as charges of causing bodily harm and endangering transportation safety should be brought against the railway employee.
At least 57 people, many of them in their teens and 20s, were killed when a northbound passenger train and a southbound freight train collided late Tuesday north of the city of Larissa, in central Greece.
The 59-year-old stationmaster allegedly directed the two trains traveling in opposite directions onto the same track.
“My client testified truthfully, without fearing if doing so would incriminate him,” Stephanos Pantzartzidis, the stationmaster’s lawyer, told reporters. “The decision (to jail him) was expected, given the importance of the case.”
Pantzartzidis implied that others besides his client share blame, saying that judges should investigate whether more than one stationmaster should have been working in Larissa at the time of the collision.
Greek media have reported that the automated signaling system in the area of the crash was not functioning, making the stationmaster’s mistake possible. Stationmasters along that part of Greece’s main trunk line communicate with each other and with train drivers via two-way radios, and the switches are operated manually.
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.
In an initial statement Wednesday, Mitsotakis had said the crash resulted from a “tragic human error.” Opposition parties pounced on the remark, accusing the prime minister of trying to cover up the state’s role and making the inexperienced stationmaster a scapegoat.
“I owe everyone, and especially the victims’ relatives, a big apology, both personal and on behalf of all who governed the country for many years,” Mitsotakis wrote Sunday on Facebook. “In 2023, it is inconceivable that two trains move in different directions on the same track and no one notices.”
Police and prosecutors have not identified the stationmaster, in line with Greek law. However, Hellenic Railways revealed the stationmaster’s name Saturday, in an announcement suspending the company inspector who appointed him. The stationmaster also has been suspended.