Trains in Greece gradually return to tracks after deadly collision
Rail services across Greece were gradually resumed on Wednesday, having been suspended for three weeks following the rail tragedy at Tempi near Larissa. On February 28, two trains collided, killing 57 people. Additional measures are in place for the time being until structural upgrades are in place, such as having two station masters to increase safety.
“Restarting the railway is necessary to regain public confidence”, the Minister of State responsible for transport and infrastructure, Giorgos Gerapetritis, said last week announcing the restart of operations. ” In addition, delaying the start of operation, even with a limited number of routes, poses serious risks of theft and/or sabotage. Finally, there is a very serious problem in freight transport to neighbouring states.”
Full services are planned to resume on April 11, including railway transportation between Athens and Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, according to the Greek Reporter.
The first official findings of an investigation of the Greek Railway Regulatory Body (RAS) into the causes of the train collision point to insufficient training of personnel carrying out critical tasks, causing inadequacies that might have contributed to the accident. According to Gerapetritis, the local remote-controlled system in Larissa was fully operational on the critical night, he repeated in a statement this week, after emphasising it to the Greek parliament earlier. The Control Center of Larissa remote controlled signalling covers about 8.5 kilometers of the route, according to the minister. This will be extended throughout the network, which the minister hopes will be completed by the end of September this year, so it will cover the largest area from Larissa to Neos Poros and Thessaloniki.
However, there are some signs that traffic control and signalling might not have worked sufficiently. Kostas Genidounias, the Greek train drivers association president, stated in Greek media: “Nothing works; neither the lights work nor the traffic control. Everything takes place manually, and information is given by the station master through a radio all over the Athens-Thessaloniki axis. If the systems had worked, the drivers would have seen the red signals and stopped 500 metres before the collision”. Several weeks before the crash, the rail workers’ union had also pointed out problems with the administration of the rail network which could put the passengers in danger.
The investigation of RAS will continue and might shed more light on the functioning of the systems. It asked infrastructure manager OSE and passenger rail company Hellenic Train to provide more and transparent evidence. Every day that the two do not provide data, they will be charged a fine of 100,000 euros.
Additional measures before technological upgrade arrives
At least until the final delivery of the remote controlled signalling upgrade, of which the first will be delivered in June and the next in September, additional safety measures will be in place, said Deputy Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Michalis Papadopoulos in an interview on the occasion of the restart of the railway on Wednesday on Greek television. He followed up Costas Karamanlis, who resigned after the railway accident. “I think we are starting today safely and I will get on the train to convince my fellow citizens from my position.”
Until at least September, several conditions will apply, among which staffing of open stations with 2 station masters, staffing all suburban trains with 2 drivers, and a reduction of speed in non-signaled sections to 80 kilometres and 100 kilometres for suburban/freight and passenger trains respectively.
“We said that we would restart trains as safely as possible until those systems are in place that will provide the ultimate in safety. But let’s not forget that anything more modern as a system exists, the human factor always plays an important role. Because an “off” at the switch takes the system out.”
The Deputy Minister visited the station office of Larissa, near which the tragedy took place, last Monday. He admits that public criticism is respected and accepted, but that this must be understood separately from the “hypocrisy of some politicians”.
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