Passenger, freight trains collide
At least 43 dead, dozens more injured in Greece’s deadliest rail accident
Tempe, Greece — Rescuers searched late into the night Wednesday for survivors amid the mangled, burned-out wrecks of two trains that collided in northern Greece, killing at least 43 people and crumpling carriages into twisted steel knots in the country’s deadliest rail crash.
The impact just before midnight Tuesday threw some passengers into ceilings and out the windows.
“My head hit the roof of the carriage with the jolt,” Stefanos Gogakos, who was in a rear car, told state broadcaster ERT. He said windows shattered, showering riders with glass.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called the collision of the passenger train and a freight train “a horrific rail accident without precedent in our country,” and pledged a full, independent investigation.
He said it appeared the crash was “mainly due to a tragic human error,” but did not elaborate.
The train from Athens to Thessaloniki was carrying 350 passengers, many of them students returning from raucous Carnival celebrations. While the track is double, both trains were traveling in opposite directions on the same line near the Vale of Tempe, a river valley about 235 miles north of Athens.
Authorities arrested the stationmaster at the train’s last stop, in the city of Larissa. They did not release the man’s name or the reason for the arrest, but the stationmaster is responsible for rail traffic on that stretch of the tracks. He was due to appear before a prosecutor Thursday to be formally charged.
Transportation Minister Kostas Karamanlis resigned, saying he was stepping down “as a basic indication of respect for the memory of the people who died so unfairly.”
Karamanlis said he had made “every effort” to improve a railway system that had been “in a state that doesn’t befit the 21st century.”
But, he added, “When something this tragic happens, it’s impossible to continue as if nothing has happened.”
The union representing train workers announced a 24-hour strike for Thursday, while protests by leftwing groups broke out in Athens late Wednesday. Athens metro workers also called a 24-hour strike for Thursday, saying they face similar problems as railway employees.
Emergency workers used cranes and other heavy machinery to move large pieces of the trains, revealing more bodies and dismembered remains. The operation was to continue overnight, with firefighters proceeding painstakingly through the wreckage.
“It’s unlikely there will be survivors, but hope dies last,” rescuer Nikos Zygouris said.
Larissa’s chief coroner, Roubini Leondari, said 43 bodies had been brought to her for examination and would require DNA identification as they were largely disfigured.
“Most (of the bodies) are young people,” she told ERT. “They are in very bad condition.”
Greece’s firefighting service said 57 people remained hospitalized late Wednesday, including six in intensive care. More than 15 others were discharged after receiving treatment.
More than 200 people who were unharmed or suffered minor injuries were taken by bus to Thessaloniki, 80 miles to the north.
Hellenic Train, which operates all of Greece’s passenger and cargo trains, including those that collided, offered its “heartfelt condolences” to the victims’ families. The company belongs to Italy’s state railways.
Eight rail employees were among the dead, including the two drivers of the freight train and the two drivers of the passenger train, according to Yannis Nitsas, president of the Greek Railroad Workers Union.