Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis has declared three days of national mourning after the deadly train crash in the north of the country. At least 36 people were killed and dozens injured in a head-on collision between a passenger train and a freight train around midnight.
Transport Minister Karamanlis has since resigned following the accident.
The fire service expects the death toll to rise further. More than 60 people are in hospital with injuries. Some are in bad shape. An emergency number has been opened for concerned family members where they can go with questions.
In memory of the victims, flags in public buildings in Greece will be flown at half-mast until Friday. Public celebrations are also canceled, said Mitsotakis, who was present at the crash site this morning. He was supposed to visit the location from which train traffic in northern Greece is coordinated today, but that appointment was canceled after the fatal collision.
Visit to disaster site
Greek President Sakellaropoulou is also on his way to the scene of the accident. She has therefore returned earlier from a state visit to Moldova, where she arrived this morning. In his own words, the president wants to be close to “her people” to support those who need it.
The accident happened on the train route between Athens and Thessaloniki, the country’s two largest cities:
On the train to Thessaloniki were many young people and students, who were on their way home after a long carnival weekend to herald the beginning of the Greek Orthodox Lent. As the train was exiting a tunnel at high speed near the town of Larissa, the vehicle collided head-on with a freight train coming from the opposite side.
Almost immediately after the collision, the front trains caught fire. According to the fire service, the temperature rose to about 1200 degrees. Due to the resulting twisted steel, rescuers have great difficulty reaching the wreckage. Many bodies are also charred, making it difficult to identify the victims.
The question is how the passenger train and freight train could end up on the same track, while there are two tracks next to each other at the crash site. The police immediately launched an investigation and interrogated three railway employees who were responsible for the route.
One of them, a 59-year-old station master, has been arrested, the police say. According to Greek media, he is charged with wrongful death.
According to the drivers’ union, the accident may have been due to human error and a failing coordination system. “Nothing works,” union chairman Kostas Genidounias said earlier today in an interview with public broadcaster ERT.
According to him, drivers have to do a lot manually and a large part of the communication is done via a radio system, and not via an electronic guidance system. There is such a system, but according to Genidounias it does not work well. Drivers have complained about this several times.
Genidounias says that station masters are currently responsible for properly redirecting passing trains. The passenger train from Larissa station has probably been put on the wrong track, Greek media write.
Rescue and recovery operations continued throughout the night. Even today, the emergency services are massively present:
The Greek authorities speak of a “national tragedy”. It is one of the country’s deadliest train accidents in decades. In 1972 two trains collided near Larissa. Nineteen people were killed in that.
Government leaders express their condolences to the Greeks. For example, Prime Minister Rutte has announced via Twitter that his thoughts are with the victims and their relatives.
Terrible news from Greece where dozens of people died in a train accident. I have expressed my condolences to Prime Minister @kmitsotakis and wished him and the Greek people the best of luck. My thoughts are with all the victims and their families.
March 1, 2023
President von der Leyen of the European Commission writes on Twitter that all of Europe mourns with Greece. The Turkish foreign minister has expressed his condolences by telephone to his Greek counterpart.
French President Macron has posted a message on Twitter in both French and Greek. “France stands next to the Greeks,” he says.
- Dozens killed in train crash in northern Greece