EU delegation in Athens to discuss increasing safety of Greek railways

EU flags at the European Central bank on half mast after the Greek railway accident

On Wednesday, a week after the fatal railway collision near Larissa, a European delegation travelled to Athens to meet Greek Authorities and talk about what technical support for the modernisation and improvement of the safety of the Greek railways is necessary. On the same day, teachers, students and civil servants went on strike in solidarity with the victims. Trams, metros and buses came to a stand still in many cities and railway employees also stayed at home.

The railway tragedy involved a freight train and a passenger train crashing into each other head-on after being on a collision course for many kilometres. 57 people are reported dead, making it the deadliest train crash in Greek history. There has been a lot of attention on the poor state of Greece’s railways since the disaster. According to the strikers, there has been neglect, staff shortages and lack of investment in the Greek railways for years.

Commission’s Directorate-General for Land Transport, Christian Schmidt, and European Railway Agency (ERA) director Josef Doppelbauer were in Athens to discuss how the EU can support improving safety of the Greek railways. From the Commission’s side, Elzbieta Lukaniuk, responsible for railway safety issues at the office of the Transport Commissioner, Adina Valean, were also present. A Greek government spokesperson told journalists on Monday that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will apply to the EU for funding to maintain and improve the rail network.

“We cannot hide behind human error”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has asked for forgiveness from the victims and relatives of the February 28 train disaster in a video on social media. According to the prime minister, in the Greece of 2023, it should not be possible for two trains to run in opposite directions on the same track and no one to notice. One of the main people responsible, a stationmaster in Larissa, will be heard by an investigating judge on Sunday. But Mitsotakis admits that “we cannot, will not and should not hide behind human error”. “We will work so that this “never again” that I heard in Larissa does not remain an empty word. I promise you”, said the Prime Minister.

The accident sparked great unrest in the country, and many people took to the streets. Amongst other things, people express anger over the privatisation of the railway company, the personnel policy of the private Hellenic Train and the failure to provide modern security systems for the railways despite having contracts for them. Last Sunday, some 7,500 people turned up for a demonstration in front of the parliament building, according to Athens police. Unions claim there were at least 12,000. Some had brought placards reading “away with murderous governments”.The protest had been called for primarily by the railway union. According to the union, it was a massive and mostly peaceful protest, but disturbances broke out on the margins. Police were bombarded with Molotov cocktails at some places by masked rioters. Officers responded with tear gas.

Accident investigation

On March 3, the Greek Railway Regulatory Authority started the investigation into the cause of the accident. The stationmaster of Larissa railway station was arrested after the train disaster. He remains detained pending trial, his lawyer informed Sunday evening. The 59-year-old man has been charged for his alleged role in the “death of a large number of people”, according to judicial sources in Greece. Under Greek law, that crime carries a sentence of 10 years to life imprisonment.

The stationmaster has since admitted being guilty of negligence, a spokesperson of the Greek government said this week. However, his lawyer stressed on Saturday that this is not the whole story. “In the case, there are important new elements that need to be investigated,” he said.

A digital signalling system would have made a head-on collision much less likely, if not impossible. In fact, the installation of the European Train Control System (ETCS) was supposed to be adopted in the mid-2000s. Τhe first state budget for this purpose was approved in 2007, including the EU’s co-financing. Works started in 2014 and were supposed to complete by 2020, but this did not happen. Four billion euros and a tragic accident later, ETCS is either missing from most of Greece’s network or is not updated.


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Author: Esther Geerts


1 comment op “EU delegation in Athens to discuss increasing safety of Greek railways”

bönström bönström|08.03.23|19:28

Is “increased safety” sufficient and
is “accident” relevant?, etc.
Are both such, above, regrettably referred, prosa severely wrong and misleading?
Now, all “stones have to be lifted”, for safely learning – and for sustainably ensuring, that obvious, severe risks – primarily, not are excused… and thus maintained -simply “business as usual”!
(Media, indeed, at any report, tragic, etc., is responsible for correct “feed back”!…)

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