The Washington Post
Head-on train collision in Greece kills at least 43 people
Transportation minister resigns; police say they arrested station master
ATHENS — At least 43 people were killed in a head-on collision between a passenger train and a freight train in central Greece late Tuesday, the governmentowned news agency ERT said, in an accident that left rescue workers picking through twisted ribbons of metal in search of survivors. A station manager and the country’s transportation minister resigned.
The crash, which left at least 85 people injured, occurred shortly before midnight in the Tempe Valley in central Greece, the Hellenic Fire Service said. By the evening, at least 57 of those injured were still hospitalized, six of them in intensive care, as rescue workers continued their search farther down the line of passenger cars. At least 53 people were waiting to hear about their missing relatives, ERT reported late Wednesday.
The collision was a tragic end to a weekend of revelry, as Greeks celebrated a carnival holiday for the first time in four years. The passenger train was filled with young people, officials said, and survivors described scenes of terror as fire engulfed train cars. Photos and footage from the crash site showed mangled train cars lying on their sides as firefighters worked to extricate passengers.
The accident appeared to be the country’s deadliest, according to local media reports.
The passenger train was traveling from the capital, Athens, to Thessaloniki, Greece’s secondlargest city, when it and the cargo train collided.
“All indications show that the drama was caused, mainly, by tragic human error,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in an address to the nation Wednesday evening, announcing the opening of an independent probe into the causes of the crash.
Police in the nearby city of Larissa said they had arrested a 59-year-old station master, who has been charged with “causing mass deaths through negligence” and “causing grievous bodily harm through negligence.” Greek media outlets reported the station master had directed the trains onto the same track.
By midafternoon, Transportation Minister Kostas Karamanlis had resigned. Hellenic Train, which operated the passenger route, said that the line was temporarily suspended and expressed its “heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims.”
Karamanlis said the Greek railway system was “not up to 21st-century standards” when he took office. “In these 3.5 years, we have made every effort to improve this reality,” he said as he announced his resignation. “Unfortunately, our efforts have not been sufficient to prevent such a bad incident. And this is very heavy for all of us and me personally.”
He called his stepping down “the minimum sign of respect to the memory of the people who died so unjustly.”
The Panhellenic Federation of Railway Employees declared a 24-hour strike starting Thursday, as a “day of reflection and mourning for our unjustly perished colleagues,” the Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported.
Fire service spokesman Vassilis Varthakoyiannis said early Wednesday the evacuation was “being carried out under very difficult conditions.” A local TV channel reported that some people were still trapped early in the morning. The fire that raged in the train crash reached temperatures of 1,300 degrees Celsius (2,372 degrees Fahrenheit), the fire department said in a news release, and the heat caused delays in rescue and removal operations.
Greek authorities said they had started identifying victims but did not yet know the exact toll, with at least 194 surviving passengers transferred to Thessaloniki by bus. Authorities set up a hotline for relatives of passengers seeking information on family members.
Some of the injured were taken to hospitals in Larissa, and at least 150 firefighters and dozens of emergency vehicles were dispatched to the crash site. Residents of Larissa lined up to donate blood.
Many of the passengers were young, said Apostolos Komnos, the head of the intensive care unit at the General Hospital of Larissa. Some of the victims were university students, Health Minister Athanasios Plevris said in televised remarks outside the hospital. “This is a terrifying process for parents and relatives who are here. We will help them as much as we can,” he said.
The crash came after a holiday weekend, in which people across the country don colorful clothing, beat drums and parade through villages before the beginning of Lent. The festivities had been canceled the previous three years because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Passengers speaking to the BBC described hearing a “big bang” and escaping the fire that engulfed their train immediately after the collision.
“For 10, 15 seconds it was chaos,” Stergios Minenis, 28, told the BBC. “Tumbling over, fires, cables hanging, broken windows, people screaming, people trapped.”
The U.S. Embassy in Athens said it was not aware of any American victims, adding that it was “deeply saddened by the news of the tragic train collision this morning.” Condolences poured in from world leaders, and European Union flags in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels were lowered to half-staff.
“The whole of Europe is mourning with you,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet Wednesday. “I also wish for a speedy recovery for all the injured.”
Pope Francis sent his condolences and passed along blessings to those injured and to emergency workers, according to the Vatican’s news agency.
Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou cut short a visit to Moldova and traveled to the crash site, where she laid white flowers among the wreckage, Kathimerini reported. The government announced three days of national mourning.
“We are facing an unimaginable tragedy,” Sakellaropoulou said in a statement posted to her office’s website. “For the most part, we are mourning young people. We share the pain of those who lost loved ones, but we know their pain is so great that comforting words can offer no relief.”
Mitsotakis also visited the site, pledging to prevent a recurrence of such a tragedy.
“It’s very difficult what we are going through today as a country,” he told reporters. “We are talking about an unspeakable tragedy. First and foremost, our thoughts today are with the relatives of the victims. Our first task is to treat the injured and, from there, to identify the bodies.”
In his speech later, Mitsotakis said he had requested the formation of a committee of independent experts to examine the causes of the crash, as well as “chronic delays in railway projects.”
Protesters demonstrated outside of the Hellenic Train headquarters in Athens on Wednesday evening, before marching toward Parliament. Members of the Athens Student Union held a sign reading, “Our dead, their profits.”
Police officers fired tear gas and flashbang grenades on the crowd, Kathimerini reported.
Opposition politician Nikos Androulakis, a member of the European Parliament, flew in from Brussels to visit the site. “Our country is experiencing an unspeakable tragedy, and we are all facing the huge question of ‘why,’” he told journalists there, according to Kathimerini. “Why, with today’s technology that has existed for many years, should so many lives hang on a human hand?”