Imperial Valley Press
Deadly Greek train crash prompts strike
THESSALONIKI, Greece – Family members awaited the results of DNA testing to identify victims of a train crash that killed nearly 60 people in Greece, as workers went on strike Thursday saying the rail system is outdated, underfunded and dangerous.
The government has blamed human error, and a railway official was charged with manslaughter.
Emergency crews, meanwhile, inched through the mangled remains of passenger carriages in their search for the dead from Tuesday night’s head-on collision, which has left 57 confirmed dead – a number that rescuers fear will increase.
The collision of a passenger train and a freight train was the country’s deadliest ever, and more than 48 people remained hospitalized – with six in intensive care – most in the central Greek city of Larissa.
RESIDENTS LINE UP IN RAIN TO GIVE BLOOD
Larissa residents lined up to give blood, many waiting in heavy rain for more than an hour, while the city’s hotel association provided free accommodation to relatives of the crash victims.
DNA matching was going fast, with at least four families – in the presence of psychologists – receiving confirmation Thursday that their relatives were among the dead, said police spokeswoman Constandia Dimoglidou.
Dimoglidou said the process usually takes several days but authorities are making an effort to finish by Friday. She said 24 bodies have been identified through DNA so far.
The testing was necessary because many of the bodies were burned or mangled beyond recognition.
Among the dozens of grieving relatives who spent a second day at the hospital awaiting results Thursday was Dimitris Bournazis, whose father and 15-year-old brother remain unaccounted for. He said phone calls to Italian-owned train operator Hellenic Train have been fruitless.
“I’ve been trying since yesterday afternoon to communicate with the company to find out what seat my father was in,” he said. “Nobody has called me back.”
WORKERS, RELATIVES SAY TRAIN SYSTEM UNSAFE
Railway workers’ associations called strikes, halting national rail services and the subway in Athens to protest working conditions and what they described as a dangerous failure to modernize the rail system. A second 24hour strike was called for Friday.
Two separate protests in central Athens were held by left-wing groups, with one resulting in clashes between stone-throwing youths and riot police. Protests were also held in Thessaloniki and Larissa.
Critics blame a lack of public investment during the deep financial crisis that spanned most of the previous decade and brought Greece to the brink of bankruptcy. It was during the crisis, in 2017, that the rail operator, then heavily losing money, was privatized and bought by Italy’s Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane Group.
Greece has a limited rail network that doesn’t reach much of the country. Despite years of modernization projects, much of the key rail control work is still manually operated.
The head of the engine drivers’ union, Costas Genidounias, said an up-to-date traffic control system was supposed to have been ready three years ago. He said that starting in 2020, union representatives sent legal notices to the company responsible for Greece’s railway infrastructure, OSE, as well as government and regulatory officials, but received no reply.
OSE issued a statement Thursday expressing condolences to the victims’ families but it has not publicly commented on the criticism.
Markos Bekris, a union representative who took part in the peaceful Athens protest Thursday, said the collision was “a crime waiting to happen.”
He argued that Hellenic Train, OSE and the current and previous governments “share responsibility, as they ignored requests from employees who weekly, daily, raised concerns over health and safety issues and the possibility of a serious accident.”