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Greece’s Prime Minister Links Train Collision to Tragic Human Error


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Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Wednesday that “tragic human error” was likely responsible for the collision of two trains that killed at least 38 people in the country’s worst rail tragedy.

Two carriages were wrecked and a third set on fire when a passenger train and a freight train collided late Tuesday near the central city of Larisa on a road plagued by years of safety warnings. The fire department added that 57 people are still in hospital, six of whom are in intensive care, while many are missing. “Everything shows that the drama was unfortunately due to tragic human error,” Mitsotakis said in a televised address. He described the incident as a “terrible, unprecedented train accident” in Greece and would be the subject of a “full” investigation.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” said one of the rescue workers, emerging from the wreckage. “It’s tragic. Five hours later, we find dead bodies.”

The accident left a tangle of metal and shattered glass in a field.

Volunteer firefighter Vassilis Iliopoulos told Sky TV that in some cases, passengers were identified by body parts, warning of the rising death toll. Police said 17 biological samples were collected from the remains and from 23 relatives who were seeking a match. The passenger train, carrying more than 350 passengers, was heading from Athens to the northern city of Thessaloniki.

“It was a train of terror,” Pavlos Aslanidis, who lost his son with a friend, told reporters.

The Greek Minister of Transport submitted his resignation hours after the accident. “When something so tragic happens, we cannot continue as if nothing happened,” Costas Karamanlis said in a public statement. Protests took place on Wednesday evening at the Thessaloniki railway station in the city of Larissa and outside the Athens offices of the Italian-owned Hellenic Railways.

In Athens, riot police fired tear gas at demonstrators who threw stones at the offices of the Greek train. The company said it was working closely with authorities and providing “financial support” to passengers.

years of safety concerns

The 59-year-old Larisa station chief was arrested several hours after the incident and charged with negligent homicide. He will appear before the attorney general on Thursday.

Government spokeswoman Yiannis Economou said the two trains had been traveling on the same track “for several kilometres”.

But members of the railway union said the safety shortcomings of the Athens-Thessaloniki railway have been known for years. In an open letter in February, the coaching staff said the track’s safety systems are incomplete and poorly maintained. The safety supervisor resigned last year, warning that infrastructure updates pending since 2016 were incomplete and that train speeds of up to 200km (124mph) were unsafe.

Five years after Greek railway operator Trainose was sold to Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane and became Hellenic Train, safety systems are still not fully automated. The state company OSE oversees Greece’s 2,200 km (1,370 mi) railway infrastructure.

Last month, the European Commission took Greece to court for failing to sign and publish an agreement with the OSE required under a 2012 directive. The head of the train drivers’ union, Costas Gnedonia, told AFP the accident “could have been avoided if the safety systems had been working”.

“total panic”

The train was carrying mostly students returning to Thessaloniki after a long weekend.

“It was a nightmare,” passenger Angelos, 22, told AFP. “I’m still shaking.”

“Fortunately we were in the penultimate car and got out alive. There was a fire in the first car and total panic.

“It was covered in blood from other people who were hurt near me,” Lazos, another passenger, told Proto Thema.

About 150 firefighters and 40 ambulances have been mobilized to respond, according to Greece’s emergency services.

Neighboring Albania, Italy, Serbia and Turkey were among the countries to offer condolences, as did China, the United States, France, Russia, Ukraine, Germany and the Vatican. Nicosia said two Cypriots were among the missing.

Windows exploded

On local media website Onlarissa, a young woman said the train “stopped for a few minutes when we heard a deafening noise”.

Another passenger told Sky TV that “the windows suddenly blew out and people started screaming.”

He added, “Fortunately, we were able to open the doors and escape very quickly. In the other wagons, they could not get out, and one of the wagons even caught fire.”

The authorities declared three days of national mourning.

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