Railway workers strike in Greece after 46 killed, dozens injured in train crash
Railway workers have gone on strike in Greece after a catastrophic train crash left at least 46 people dead and dozens more injured.
A train from Athens to Thessaloniki carrying 350 passengers – many of them students returning from carnival celebrations – crashed head-on into a freight train in northern Greece shortly before midnight on Tuesday in the country’s deadliest rail crash on record.
On Thursday, railway workers’ associations held a 24-hour strike, bringing the country’s national rail services as well as the subway in Athens to a grinding halt.
The Greek Railroad Workers Union called the strike to protest what it said was chronic neglect of Greece’s railways by successive governments.
“Unfortunately, our long-standing demands for staff hirings, better training and above all use of modern safety technology always end up in the wastepaper basket,” it said in a statement.
Rescue efforts continued on Thursday afernoon, as the death toll from the tragedy rose to 46.
Emergency crews cut through the mangled remains of the passenger train, progressing “centimetre by centimetre” in their search for the dead.
More than 50 people remained in hospital on Thursday afternoon, including six in intensive care. Fire Service spokesman Yiannis Artopios said the grim recovery effort was proceeding “centimetre by centimetre.”
The cause of the crash is still not clear.
A station manager arrested after the collision was charged on Wednesday with multiple counts of manslaughter and causing serious physical harm through negligence, as a judicial inquiry tries to establish why the two trains were traveling in opposite directions on the same track.
Meanwhile Greece’s Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis resigned on Wednesday, saying he was stepping down “as a basic indication of respect for the memory of the people who died so unfairly.”
Mr Karamanlis said he had made “every effort” to improve a railway system that had been “in a state that doesn’t befit the 21st century.”
But, he added, “When something this tragic happens, it’s impossible to continue as if nothing has happened.”
Late on Wednesday, several hundred protesters from left-wing groups took to the streets of Athens, to take action outside Hellenic Train’s headquarters, blaming the deadly disaster on the government’s privatisation of the railway firm.
Minor clashes broke out as some protesters threw stones at the offices of the rail operator and riot police, and set bins on fire, but no arrests or injuries were reported.
The length of railway line where the tragedy happened has two tracks, but both trains were travelling in opposite directions on the same track around 380km (235 miles) north of Athens, when the collision happened.
Rescuer Nikos Zygouris previously said: “It’s unlikely there will be survivors, but hope dies last.”
Larissa’s chief coroner, Roubini Leondari, said the bodies would require DNA identification as they were largely disfigured, telling state broadcaster ERT: “Most are young people.”
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called the collision of the passenger train and a freight train “a horrific rail accident without precedent in our country,” and pledged a full, independent investigation. He said it appeared the crash was “mainly due to a tragic human error,” but did not elaborate.
Hellenic Train, which operates all of Greece’s passenger and cargo trains, including those that collided, offered its “heartfelt condolences” to the victims’ families.
The company belongs to Italy’s state railways. Eight rail employees were among the dead, including the two drivers of the freight train and the two drivers of the passenger train, according to Yannis Nitsas, president of the Greek Railroad Workers Union.
The Greek government declared three days of national mourning from Wednesday, while flags flew at half-mast outside all European Commission buildings in Brussels.