On 28th February, a passenger service carrying 350 people collided with a freight train in the municipality of Tempi – resulting in the front carriages immediately bursting into flames. At Least 57 people died and many were injured severely. The passenger train was around two-thirds full with numerous young people on board – many were university students who may have been traveling to Thessaloniki from Athens after the holiday for Greek Orthodox Lent.
WHO WAS TO BLAME?
Although the two high-speed trains were traveling in opposite directions, they somehow ended up on the same railway track for many kilometers without anyone noticing. The union representing Hellenic Train (the company responsible for maintaining Greece’s railways) blamed successive governments’ ‘disrespect’ towards Greek railways. One government minister said that austerity as a response to the 2008 economic crisis contributed to the lack of investment in Greece’s railway system. The reality is that there were many factors at play here. Many Greeks saw the incident as an ‘accident waiting to happen’. Both human error and outdated technology are at fault.
A station master based at Larissa who was in charge of signaling has been arrested and charged with manslaughter by negligence. He denied any malpractice and instead placed blame on a possible technical failure. Whether or not this was the case, one person cannot be held responsible.
Train drivers say that there have been many problems with electronic systems for a long time.
“Nothing works. Everything happens manually throughout the Athens -Thessaloniki network. Neither the indicators, nor the traffic lights, nor the electronic traffic control work”.Kostas Genidounias (Train Drivers’ Association president).
Hence, the system did not detect the danger incoming and was unable to warn the two trains traveling toward each other for many kilometers. There are currently only 750 railway workers whereas there should be more than 2000 national employees in order for the railways to operate effectively.
In the last few years, there were 2 deaths that resulted from train collisions in Greece. To say that this accident could have been prevented would not be an overstatement. It is sad to see that such a big tragedy like this was needed to instigate real change in the operation of the railway system, despite many warning signs over the years. From this incident, it is evident that modernization of technology is imperative in today’s day and age. For the safety of the people, it can no longer be ignored.