Rescue workers are searching for survivors after a head-on collision between two trains in central Greece killed dozens and injured dozens, raising questions about the country’s poor record on railway safety.
At least 36 people were killed when a passenger train carrying more than 350 people collided with a freight train on Tuesday, just before midnight, in Tempe near the city of Larissa, leaving scattered carriages and piles of debris in its wake. The Greek fire service said 66 people were being treated for their injuries in hospital, including six in intensive care units.
The country’s transport minister resigned on Wednesday, saying the railway system the government inherited was “not up to 21st century standards”.
State broadcaster ERT reported on Wednesday that the two trains involved in the fatal collision had been traveling on the same track for several kilometers before the accident. The passenger train changed course and turned into a freight track before colliding head-on with a freight train, according to ERT.
The Greek fire service said recovery efforts were under way, with the focus on the first carriages of the passenger train. The death toll is expected to rise.
A passenger describes the aftermath of a fatal train collision
Pictures taken at the ERT station showed thick plumes of smoke billowing from toppled vehicles and long lines of rescue vehicles nearby.
The head of the intensive care unit (ICU) at a local hospital where the injured are being treated, told ERT Wednesday that most of the passengers involved in the crash were young adults.
Greek Health Minister Thanos Pleveris said the process of identifying the victims had also begun.
The fatal accident raised questions about the safety of Greece’s railway infrastructure.
Greece has a poor record for rail passenger safety compared to other countries in Europe, having the highest rate of railway fatalities per million train kilometers from 2018 to 2020 out of 28 countries on the continent, according to a 2022 report by the European Union Rail Agency.
“It is a fact that we received the Greek railway system in a country that is not up to the standards of the 21st century,” Greek Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis said Wednesday upon his resignation, adding that in the past three and a half years the government “has done its utmost to improve this reality.”
Unfortunately, our efforts were not enough to prevent such a bad accident. And this is very heavy for all of us and for me personally.
I submit my resignation as Minister of Transport and Infrastructure. This is what I feel is my responsibility to do as a minimum of respect for the memory of people who died unjustly.”
During a visit to the site on Wednesday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis vowed to find out the cause of the collision.
What we are witnessing today as a country is very difficult. “We are talking about an unspeakable tragedy,” Mitsotakis told reporters.
“One thing I can guarantee: we will find out the reasons for this tragedy and do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Greek police told CNN they arrested a train station manager in Larissa on Wednesday as part of a preliminary investigation. Greek police spokeswoman Constantia Dimogledou said Wednesday that a 59-year-old man has been detained in the city and is expected to appear before the public prosecutor.
Passengers rushed to escape from the wreckage of the collision, as pictures emerged showing the devastation left by the accident.
“I ran forward and saw the worst part of the collision. The whole train had a 90-degree angle, it fell over the cliff, half of it was hanging in the air and it was Everything is on fire.”
“There was panic,” said 28-year-old Stergios Mennes.
Another passenger told Greek public station ERT: “We just heard a bang…the car (the train) started to turn, before ending up sideways when we managed to get out.”
Another passenger said, “It was a terrifying ten seconds with the fire, you couldn’t have seen so much smoke.”
The passenger train was traveling from the capital, Athens, to Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, which is famous for its festivals and vibrant cultural life. The collision follows a nationwide carnival weekend that ended with a public holiday on Monday.
Greek fire service spokesman Vassilis Varthakogiannis said earlier that 194 passengers were safely transported to Thessaloniki and 20 people were transported by bus to the city of Larissa.
Varthakogiannis added that at least 150 firefighters including special rescue units with 17 vehicles and 30 ambulances took part in the rescue operation.
Hellenic Train, the Greek railway company, said in a press release that there was a “head-on collision between two trains: a freight train and an IC 62 train that had departed from Athens for Thessaloniki”.
Hellenic Train, the main Greek railway company, acquired Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane in 2017 and is now fully under Trenitalia’s control. The company operates both passenger and freight transportation. The main line on which daily transport links are provided is Athens-Thessaloniki.
Condolences poured in from around the world, as Greek government officials declared a three-day mourning period with a flag at half-staff from Wednesday.
“Coffee trailblazer. Certified pop culture lover. Infuriatingly humble gamer.”
Crimea: Russia’s Kalibr cruise missiles destroyed in a strike, according to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry
Australia charges a former soldier with murder over the killing of an Afghan
South Korea abandons the 69-hour weekly work plan after the youth revolution