‘Tragic human error’ caused Greece’s worst train accident: PM

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday that a “tragic human error” was likely to blame for the train collision that killed at least 38 people in the country’s worst rail tragedy.

Two carriages were crushed and a third set on fire when a passenger train and a freight train collided near the central city of Larissa late Tuesday on a route plagued by years of safety warnings.

Video: 32 killed, 85 injured after two trains collide in Greece; rescue operation underway

The fire department had earlier raised the death toll to 38, adding that 57 people were still hospitalised, six of them in intensive care, while several were missing.

“Everything shows that the drama was, sadly, mainly due to a tragic human error,” Mitsotakis – who is seeking re-election this year – said in a televised address.

He said it was a “terrible train accident without precedent” in Greece that would be “thoroughly” investigated.

Climbing out of the rubble, a rescue worker said, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire life.” “It’s sad. Five hours later, we’re getting bodies.”

The crash left a tangled mess of metal and shards of glass in a field.

In some cases, passengers are being identified by body parts, volunteer fireman Vassilis Iliopoulos told Sky TV, warning the death toll would rise.

Seventeen biological samples have been collected from the remains, police said, and 23 relatives have been sought for matches.

“It was a train of terror,” Pavlos Aslanidis, whose son is missing with a friend, told reporters.

A few hours after the accident, the Transport Minister of Greece resigned.

Kostas Karamanlis said in a public statement, “When something so tragic happens, we cannot continue as if nothing had happened.”

In the capital Athens on Wednesday evening, police fired tear gas shells at protesters who were pelting stones at the offices of the railway’s operating company, Hellenic Train.

years of security concerns

The passenger train, carrying more than 350 people, was traveling from Athens to the northern city of Thessaloniki.

The 59-year-old station master of Larissa was arrested several hours after the accident and charged with manslaughter by negligence.

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

But train unionists said the station master was likely a scapegoat because the safety deficiencies of the Athens-Thessaloniki railway line had been known for years.

In an open letter in February, train workers said track protection systems were incomplete and poorly maintained.

A safety supervisor resigned last year, warning that infrastructure upgrades pending since 2016 were incomplete and that train speeds of up to 200 kilometers (124 miles) per hour were unsafe.

Kostas Zinidounias, president of the train drivers’ union, told AFP from the scene that the accident could have been avoided if the safety system had been in place.

‘Complete Panic’

Health Minister Thanos Palaveris said most of the passengers were “young people”, with the train carrying many students returning to Thessaloniki after a long holiday weekend.

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

“Luckily we were in the last car and we got out alive. The first cars caught fire and there was a complete stampede.

“The collision was like a big earthquake.”

A passenger named Lajos told the newspaper Proto Thema, “I was covered in blood from other people who had been injured.”

According to Greek emergency services, some 150 firefighters and 40 ambulances were mobilized for the response.

Iliopoulos said crews were still struggling to lift one of the damaged compartments so it could be searched inside.

“My thoughts are with the people of Greece this morning,” tweeted European Council chief Charles Michel.

“Shocked by the news and pictures of two trains colliding,” he said.

Neighboring Albania, Italy, Serbia and Turkey were among states to send condolences, as did China, the United States, France, Russia, Ukraine, Germany and the Vatican.

Nicosia said two Cypriots were among the missing.

‘Windows Cracked’

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

Another passenger told Sky TV: “The windows suddenly rattled. People were screaming.”

“Fortunately, we were able to open the doors and escaped fairly quickly. In other wagons, they didn’t manage to get out, and one wagon caught fire,” he said.

The authorities have declared three days of national mourning.

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