Greeks will hold a third day of protests across the country after a fatal train collision killed at least 57 people, sparking public criticism of government failures in the rail network.
Protesters are expected to hold silent demonstrations on Friday evening in the capital Athens and several major cities across Greece, while unions have also urged railway workers to strike for a second consecutive day.
Anger has been mounting since a freight train and passenger train, carrying more than 350 people, collided head-on late Tuesday near Larissa in central Greece.
Greece’s train services were paralysed on Thursday by striking workers who say that successive administrations’ mismanagement of the network had contributed to the fatal collision.
Around 700 angry demonstrators rallied outside the Athens headquarters of Greek rail operator Hellenic Train on Thursday.
“We are angry at the company, at the government and past governments that did nothing to improve conditions in the Greek railway,” said pensioner Stavros Nantis.
And in Thessaloniki – Greece’s second largest city – police said a protest of about 2,000 demonstrators turned violent, with protesters throwing stones and petrol bombs.
Government spokesman Yiannis Economou said an inquiry would examine the “chronic delays in implementing railway works – delays caused by chronic public sector malaise and decades of failure”.
Authorities have pointed to “human error” in seeking to explain the train collision, in which two carriages were demolished and a buffet car caught fire, trapping many victims inside.
“I believe the responsibility, the negligence, the error has been confessed by the station master,” Economou told reporters in Athens.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is seeking re-election this spring, said after visiting the crash site on Wednesday: “Everything shows that the drama was, sadly, mainly due to a tragic human error.”
But train sector unions say security problems on the Athens-Thessaloniki railway line had been known for years.
The lawyer for the 59-year-old station master – who has been charged with negligent homicide – said his client has admitted partial responsibility for the crash, but stressed there were other factors at play.
“My client has assumed his share of responsibility. But we must not focus on a tree when there is a forest behind it,” lawyer Stefanos Pantzartzidis said on Thursday.
State broadcaster ERT has noted that the station master was only appointed to the post 40 days ago, after a training course that lasted just three months.
For decades, Greece’s 2,552-kilometre rail network has been plagued by mismanagement, poor maintenance and obsolete equipment.
The country’s transport minister resigned on Wednesday in the wake of the crash.
His replacement Giorgos Gerapetritis has offered “apologies” to families of the victims, and vowed a “complete evaluation of the political system and the state”.
Safety systems on the line are still not fully automated, five years after the state-owned Greek rail operator Trainose was privatised and sold to Italy’s Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane and became Hellenic Train.
The company said Wednesday it was working with the authorities and had offered “financial support” to the passengers.