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
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 upto-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.” how two trains traveled in opposite directions on the same track for more than 10 minutes without anyone raising the alarm.
The Larissa station manager was charged Thursday with multiple counts of manslaughter and causing serious physical harm through negligence. His name was not released.
The stationmaster’s lawyer, Stefanos Pandzardzidis, said his client was “devastated” and accepted “his portion of the responsibility.”
“But beyond that ... we must not focus on the tree while there’s a whole forest beyond it,” he said. “There’s a forest of responsibility.”
Bournazis agreed that the responsibility for the crash should go far beyond the stationmaster.
“We can’t dump all the blame on one person for making one mistake,” he said.
He said the crash should lead to a full safety overhaul of the country’s rail system.