Albany Times Union

Stationmas­ter charged in Greece

- By Demetris Nellas and Costas Kantouris

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.

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