- At least 46 are killed in Greece’s worst train disaster
- Government promises to fix the faltering railway system
- Railway workers quit their jobs in protest against safety standards
LARISA, Greece (March 2) (Reuters) – The death toll from Greece’s deadliest train crash is expected to rise further, with 46 confirmed dead and 10 still missing, authorities said on Thursday.
Outrage mounted across the country over how two trains crashed head-on on the same track and the government said it would do everything it could to make sure such a crash never happened again.
Carriages were thrown off the tracks, two were completely destroyed and several were set on fire when a high-speed passenger train carrying more than 350 passengers collided with a freight train near the city of Larissa late on Tuesday.
“We are all devastated by this tragic incident,” government spokesman Giannis Okonomo told a news conference.
“The loss and trauma it caused, the physical and mental trauma of the survivors, and the anxiety of this country is huge, and it’s hard to manage, especially now.”
As many in Greece demanded answers, rescuers continued combing through charred and sloping railway cars trying to find more victims.
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“The most difficult moment is this moment when, instead of saving lives, we have to recover the bodies,” Konstantinos Imanimedes, a 40-year-old rescuer, told Reuters at the crash site, about 140 miles (230 km) north of Athens.
“Temperatures of 1,200 degrees and more in the carriages do not allow anyone to survive.”
Nearby, two sobbing brothers were sobbing, as 33-year-old Socrates Pozos said they had come to the crash site hoping to get some news about their father, after the hospital could not tell them if his body had been recovered.
To identify some of the victims, relatives, including the Pozos brothers, had to give out DNA samples at a hospital in Larissa, where disbelief turned to anger for some.
“Some bastards have to pay for this,” a relative shouted outside the hospital.
Many of the victims were university students returning home after a long weekend. Dozens were injured.
On Wednesday night, demonstrators hurled stones at the offices of the Athens train company before being dispersed by a volley of tear gas fired by riot police. Protests also broke out in Thessaloniki.
On Thursday, trains were halted on a day of strike to protest what unions described as the refusal of successive governments to listen to repeated demands for better safety standards.
The government promised a thorough investigation. Oikonomou said the authorities will look into the causes of the accident and the “chronic delays” in the implementation of the rail projects.
“These delays are rooted in the chronic ills of the Greek (public sector), to distortions that go back decades,” he said, adding that the government has tried to deal with this matter but “has not succeeded in eradicating it.”
Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis resigned over the incident. His successor, Giorgos Geraprititis, said he would take office on Thursday with a mandate to investigate the accident and modernize the ailing railway system.
The head of Larisa train station was arrested on Wednesday and brought before a local judge on Thursday. Okonomo said the man, who did not speak publicly, pleaded guilty to negligence.
Nikos Tsouridis, a retired train driver’s instructor, said human error did not fully explain what happened.
“The head of the station made a mistake, but he admitted it, but certainly there must be a safety mechanism to fall back on,” he said.
Greece sold the railway company TRINOSE under its international bailout program in 2017 to Italy’s Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, and expects to invest hundreds of millions of euros in railway infrastructure in the coming years.
The Italian operation is responsible for passengers and freight, and the Greek state-controlled OSE for infrastructure.
Additional reporting by Lefteris Papadimas, Alexandros Avramidis, Rene Maltizo, Carolina Tagaris and Michel Kampas; Writing by Renée Maltezzo and Ingrid Melander; Editing by John Stonestreet and Frank Jack Daniel
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