On Sunday, a stationmaster who is suspected of being responsible for Greece’s deadliest train accident was charged with negligent murder and imprisoned pending trial. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also expressed regret for any role the Greek government may have played in the tragedy.
The railway employee should be charged with many counts of homicide, as well as charges of causing bodily harm and endangering transportation safety, according to the prosecutor and the examining magistrate.
A northbound passenger train and a southbound freight train collided late Tuesday north of the city of Larissa in central Greece, killing at least 57 individuals, many of them in their teens and 20s.
The two trains, headed in different directions, were allegedly led onto the same track by the 59-year-old stationmaster. Before being accused and ordered held, he testified about the circumstances leading up to the incident for 7 and a half hours on Sunday.
“My client testified truthfully, without fearing if doing so would incriminate him,” Stephanos Pantzartzidis, the stationmaster’s lawyer, told reporters. “The decision (to jail him) was expected, given the importance of the case.”
Insinuating that courts should look into whether more than one stationmaster was required to be on duty in Larissa at the time of the crash, Pantzartzidis suggested that parties other than his client share responsibility.
“For 20 minutes, he was in charge of (train) safety in all central Greece,” the lawyer said of his client.
According to Greek media reports, the crash site’s malfunctioning automatic signaling system made the stationmaster’s error possible. Stationmasters use two-way radios to communicate with one another and train drivers while manually operating the switches along that section of Greece’s major trunk line.
The new Greek transportation minister would announce a safety improvement plan, the prime minister vowed, and an immediate inquiry into the crash would be conducted. A commission will be established to look into the nation’s railway system’s decades-long mismanagement once a new parliament is in place, Mitsotakis said.
Mitsotakis initially claimed that the disaster was caused by a “tragic human error” in a statement on Wednesday. Opposition parties accused the prime minister of seeking to hide the state’s involvement and of making the novice stationmaster a scapegoat after the comment was made.
“I owe everyone, and especially the victims’ relatives, a big apology, both personal and on behalf of all who governed the country for many years,” Mitsotakis wrote Sunday on Facebook. “In 2023, it is inconceivable that two trains move in different directions on the same track and no one notices. We cannot, we do not want to, and we must not hide behind the human error.”
Greek media documented in multiple exposes that Greece’s railways had long-standing problems with chronic mismanagement, including wasteful spending on projects that were ultimately abandoned or considerably delayed. According to news sources, maintenance work was delayed because Hellenic Railways, the country’s state-owned railway corporation, was billions of euros in debt.
According to Panayotis Paraskevopoulos, a retired railway union official, the signaling system in the region under the stationmaster’s supervision in Larissa malfunctioned six years ago and was never fixed.
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Under Greek legislation, police and prosecutors have not released the stationmaster’s identity. But, Hellenic Railways, better known as OSE, announced Saturday that the inspector who hired the stationmaster had been suspended. The stationmaster was also put on leave.
In 2011, when Greece’s creditors required reductions in the number of public employees, the stationmaster, a former porter with the railway company, was reportedly reassigned to a desk job at the Ministry of Education. Midway through 2022, the 59-year-old was returned to the railroad firm and enrolled in a 5-month stationmaster training program.
According to his Facebook post, he was deployed to Larissa on January 23 after finishing the course. However, he did spend the following month shifting between other stations before returning to Larissa in late February, only days before the collision on February 28.
Authorities estimate that 12,000 people attended a protest event organized by railway unions on Sunday in the heart of Athens. As more than 200 masked, black-clad persons began throwing marbles, rocks, bottles, and firebombs at police, who were pursuing them along a significant city thoroughfare while firing tear gas and stun grenades, five people were detained and seven police officers were hurt.
About 3,000 people showed up to two protests in Thessaloniki. Aristotle University, the largest university in Greece with more than 50,000 students, is located in the city and was home to several crash fatalities. Left-wing activists planned the more significant demonstration, which marched to a government facility. At that event, no issues were reported.
As demonstrators attempted to hang a banner atop the White Tower, the city’s iconic monument, there was a brief altercation with police. Members of the Communist Party organized this protest.
“The Communist Party organised a symbolic protest today in front of the White Tower to denounce the crime in Tempe, because it is a premeditated crime, a crime committed by the company and the bourgeois state that supports these companies,” Giannis Delis a Communist politician told AP.
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