A Stationmaster blamed for Greece’s deadliest train disaster He was charged with negligent homicide on Sunday and jailed pending trial, while Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis apologized for any responsibility the Greek government may have borne for the tragedy.
An examining magistrate and a prosecutor agreed that the rail worker should be charged with multiple counts of manslaughter as well as causing bodily harm and endangering the safety of transportation.
A northbound passenger train and a southbound freight train killed at least 57 people, many in their teens and 20s. The clash took place late on Tuesday night North of the city of Larissa in central Greece.
The 59-year-old stationmaster allegedly directed two trains traveling in opposite directions on the same track. He spent 7 1/2 hours Sunday testifying about the events leading up to the crash before he was charged and ordered detained.
“My client testified truthfully, without fear that doing so would incriminate him,” the stationmaster’s lawyer Stefanos Pantjerzidis told reporters. The decision (to send him to jail) was expected considering the gravity of the case.
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Pantzartzidis implied that others besides his client were to blame, saying jurors should investigate whether more than one stationmaster should have been working at Lorissa at the time of the collision.
“For 20 minutes, he was in charge of (train) security in all of central Greece,” the lawyer said of his client.
Greek media reported that the automatic signaling system was not working in the area of the accident, making the stationmaster’s mistake possible. Stationmasters on that part of the main trunk line in Greece communicate with each other and with the train drivers by two-way radio, and the switches are operated manually.
The prime minister promised a swift investigation into the collision and said the new Greek transport minister would publish a safety improvement plan. Once a new parliament is installed, a commission will also be named to investigate decades of mismanagement of the country’s rail system, Mitsotakis said.
In an initial statement Wednesday, Mitsotakis said the accident was the result of a “tragic human error.” Opposition parties pounced on the comments, accusing the prime minister of trying to cover up the state’s role and scapegoating the inexperienced stationmaster.
“I owe everyone, especially the relatives of the victims, a big apology, personally and on behalf of those who have ruled the country for so many years,” Mitsotakis wrote on Facebook on Sunday. “In 2023, it is unthinkable that two trains run in different directions on the same track and no one notices. We cannot, we do not want, and we must not hide behind human error.”
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Greece’s railways have suffered from chronic mismanagement, including lavish spending on projects that were ultimately abandoned or significantly delayed, Greek media reported in several publications. With state railway company Hellenic Railways billions of euros in debt, maintenance work was halted, according to news reports.
A retired railway union leader, Panayotis Paraskevopoulos, told Greek newspaper Kathimerini that the signaling system in the area monitored by the Larissa stationmaster had malfunctioned six years ago and had never been repaired.
Police and prosecutors have not identified the stationmaster in accordance with Greek law. However, Hellenic Railways, also known as OSE, released the stationmaster’s name on Saturday, announcing the dismissal of the company inspector who hired him. The stationmaster has also been suspended.
Greek media reported that the stationmaster, a former porter for a railway company, was transferred to a desk job at the Ministry of Education in 2011, after Greece’s creditors demanded a reduction in the number of civil servants. The 59-year-old was transferred to the railway company in mid-2022 and started a 5-month course to train as a stationmaster.
According to her own Facebook post, she was assigned to Larissa on January 23, after completing the course. However, days before the February 28 clash, he spent the next month rotating between other stations before returning to Larissa in late February, Greek media reported.
On Sunday, railway unions organized a protest rally in central Athens that authorities said drew about 12,000 people.
Five people were arrested and seven police officers were injured when a group of more than 200 masked, black-clad men began hurling marbles, rocks, bottles and firebombs at officers, who chased them down a central city avenue while using tear gas. Gas and stun grenades.
In Thessaloniki, around 3,000 people attended two protest rallies. Several of the victims of the crash were students at Aristotle University in Greece’s largest city, which has more than 50,000 students.
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Larger protests, organized by left-wing activists, marched to a government building. No incident was reported in that event.
In another, staged by members of the Communist Party at the city’s signature monument, the White Tower, there was a brief clash with police when protesters tried to place a banner on the monument.
“The Communist Party today organized a symbolic protest in front of the White Tower to condemn the crime in Tempe, because it is a premeditated crime, a crime committed by companies and the bourgeois state that supports these companies,” Giannis Delis, a Communist lawmaker, told The Associated Press.