Many killed as trains collide in northern Greece
A passenger train collided with an oncoming freight train in northern Greece late on Tuesday, killing and injuring dozens, officials said. (March 1)
The death toll rose to 36 and a railroad worker was arrested Wednesday after the fiery, head-on collision of passenger and freight trains near the town of Tempe in northern Greece.
More than 80 people were injured, and the Greek government declared three days of national mourning.
Rail operator Hellenic Train said the passenger train was traveling from Athens to Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city and a popular tourist destination that describes itself as the “gateway to the Aegean Sea.” The train carried more than 300 people, including many university students returning home from Carnival, a three-day national party that precedes the Christian season of Lent.
Multiple cars derailed and at least three burst into flames after the two trains ran into each other at high speed just before midnight Tuesday, authorities said.
Rescue crews spent hours combing through the wreckage, listening for the calls of survivors. Cranes were brought in to slowly peel away layers of the twisted, burned steel.
►Greek Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis resigned Wednesday, saying he felt it was his duty to step down out of “respect for the memory of the people who died so unfairly.”
►Eight rail employees were killed, including the two drivers of the freight train and the two drivers of the passenger train, Greek Railroad Workers Union President Yannis Nitsas said.
►Pope Francis, in a message sent to the president of the Greek bishops conference, offered his condolences to the families of those affected.
The stationmaster in the Greek city of Larissa, near where two trains collided Tuesday night, has been charged with manslaughter by negligence and grievous bodily harm by negligence, police said. The stationmaster, who is in charge of signaling, denies wrongdoing and has blamed the accident on a possible technical failure, the BBC reported.
A police statement identified the suspect only as a 59-year-old man. Two other people have been detained for questioning, police said. Authorities did not immediately reveal their connection to the crash, and no cause was immediately revealed.
Kostas Genidounias, president of the association of Greek train drivers, told state broadcaster ERT of long-running problems with the electronic systems that are supposed to warn drivers.
“Nothing works. Everything happens manually throughout the Athens-Thessaloniki network,” Genidounias said. “Neither the indicators, nor the traffic lights, nor the electronic traffic control work.”
“There were many big pieces of steel,” said Vassilis Polyzos, a local resident who said he was one of the first people on the scene. “The trains were completely destroyed, both passenger and freight trains.”
He said dazed and disoriented people were escaping out of the train’s rear cars as he arrived.
“People, naturally, were scared – very scared,” he said. “They were looking around, searching; they didn’t know where they were.”
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who described the crash as “an unspeakable tragedy,” was traveling to the region, his office said.
“We will find out the causes of this tragedy and do everything in our power to make sure it never happens again,” Mitsotakis said.
The trains crashed just before the Vale of Tempe, a gorge that separates the regions of Thessaly and Macedonia. Costas Agorastos, the regional governor in Thessaly, told Greece’s Skai Television the two trains collided head on at high speed.
“Carriage one and two no longer exist, and the third has derailed,” he said.
Survivors said the impact threw several passengers through the windows of train cars. They said others fought to free themselves after the passenger train buckled, slamming into a field near the gorge 235 miles north of Athens.
Contributing: The Associated Press