After the serious train accident in northern Greece with at least 43 dead so far, railway workers want to go on a 24-hour strike this Thursday. The Greek union of railway workers announced on Wednesday that the workforce wanted to protest against the chronic neglect of the railway lines by various governments. "Unfortunately, our year-long demands for hiring staff, better training, and especially the use of modern security technology have always ended up in the trash."
The employees of the Athens subway also announced that they would stop working for 24 hours on Thursday. They were struggling with similar problems as the railroad workers, they explained.
On Wednesday night, a passenger train on the way from Athens to Thessaloniki collided with a freight train. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke of a "horrific train accident without precedent in our country" and announced an independent investigation. The cause of the accident was apparently “mainly a tragic human error”.
Eight railway workers were among the at least 43 dead, including the two drivers of the freight train and the two drivers of the passenger train, according to the president of the railway workers' union, Yannis Nitsas.
Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis announced his resignation as a consequence of the accident. He is doing this out of "respect for the memory of those people who died in such an unjust manner," he explained. He has made "every effort" to improve a rail network that is "in a condition that is not appropriate for the 21st century". But "when something so tragic happens, it's impossible to carry on as if nothing happened."
On Wednesday, the emergency services searched the battered and partially burned-out car for possible survivors and other bodies. Several wagons jumped off the tracks in the collision, and at least three of them caught fire. "Temperatures reached 1300 degrees Celsius, which makes it even more difficult to identify the people who were inside," said fire department spokesman Vassilis Varthakoyiannis.
There was no specific information about how fast the two trains were traveling when they collided. However, Greek television reported that it was more than 140 kilometers per hour. Survivors said several occupants were thrown through train car windows by the force of the impact. Some bodies were recovered 30 to 40 meters from the wagons. Survivors tried desperately to free themselves when the passenger train overturned and crashed into a field next to the train tracks.
The accident happened near the village of Tempi, around 380 kilometers north of Athens, at the entrance to the Tempe Valley, a gorge between the regions of Thessaly and Macedonia. Mitsotakis visited the scene of the accident and said his government would assist those injured and identify the dead. "I can guarantee one thing: we will find out the causes of this tragedy and do everything we can to ensure that something like this never happens again," Mitsotakis said. President Katerina Sakellaropoulou broke off a visit to Moldova and laid flowers at the scene of the accident. The government ordered three days of national mourning.
OSE train drivers' union leader Kostas Genidounias said the line between Athens and Thessaloniki was in a very bad condition. All signals are controlled manually, he explained on television station ERT. "The systems haven't worked since 2000."
In an open letter in February, railway employees pointed out that the safety systems for the tracks were incomplete and poorly maintained. A safety inspector resigned last year, warning that train travel at speeds of up to 200 kilometers per hour on the route was dangerous due to incomplete safety upgrades.