Two trains travel several kilometers on the Athens-Thessaloniki route on the same track until the accident occurs: at least 38 people die and many are still missing. Everything points to human error, says Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The transport minister draws conclusions.
After the head-on collision of two trains in Greece with at least 38 dead, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis attributed the accident to human error. "Everything indicates that, sadly, the drama happened largely due to tragic human error," Mitsotakis said in a televised address. Dozens of people were injured in the worst train accident in Greek history, and several more were still missing in the evening.
Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis announced his resignation a few hours after the accident. "When something so tragic happens, we cannot carry on as if nothing happened," Karamanlis said. The accident happened on Tuesday evening just before midnight on the route between the capital Athens and the port city of Thessaloniki, near the city of Larisa. The locomotives and the first cars of both trains were almost completely destroyed by the collision, both drivers are among the dead. Several wagons fell off the tracks and some caught fire.
By the evening, 38 dead had been recovered and 85 injured had been taken to the hospital. According to the fire brigade, the number of victims could increase because people were still believed to be in the pile of rubble. "The effort to free trapped people continues," said fire department spokesman Vassilis Vathrakogiannis. The rescue work is "very difficult," said Konstantinos Giannakopoulos from the doctors' union in Larisa on the ERT television channel. Some of the 500 rescue workers tried to get into the crushed wagons with metal scissors. The wrecks lying next to the railway line were lifted with two large cranes. Regional governor Kostas Agorastos said on Skai that the death toll will probably be "very high" in the end. Greek government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said the trains had been traveling "several kilometers" on the same track before the accident.
According to the police, the Larisa station master was arrested. He is accused of negligent homicide. OSE train drivers' union leader Kostas Genidounias said the line between Athens and Thessaloniki was in a very bad condition. All signals are controlled manually, he said on television station ERT. "The systems haven't worked since 2000."
In an open letter in February, railway employees pointed out that the safety systems for the tracks were incomplete and poorly maintained. A safety inspector resigned last year, warning that train travel at speeds of up to 200km/h on the route was dangerous due to incomplete safety upgrades. "I've never seen anything like it in my life," said a rescue worker who came out of a wrecked wagon, completely exhausted. "It's so tragic."
"It was a nightmare, I'm still shaking," said 22-year-old passenger Angelos at the scene of the accident. "Fortunately we were in the penultimate carriage and got out alive." The collision felt like a "huge earthquake". "There was a fire in the first wagons and total panic," he reported. "At the moment of the accident, the windows suddenly exploded," another passenger reported on television. "Fortunately we were able to open the door and escape quickly. People couldn't do it in other cars."
Health Minister Thanos Plevris said many young people were sitting on the passenger train with a total of 342 passengers. According to him, many students had taken the train to go back to Thessaloniki after a long weekend. Prime Minister Mitsotakis visited the scene of the accident and declared three days of national mourning. He promised to fully clarify the circumstances of the accident.