Emergency crews cut through the mangled remains of a passenger train on Thursday, progressing “centimeter by centimeter” in their continuing search for the dead from a head-on collision in northern Greece that killed at least 57 people.
Anger over the crash prompted rail workers to go on strike on Thursday to protest years of underfunding that they say has left the country’s train system in a dangerous state.
The passenger train and a freight train slammed into each other late on Tuesday, crumpling carriages into twisted steel knots and forcing people to smash windows to escape.
It was the country’s deadliest crash ever, and 48 people remained hospitalised, most in the central Greek city of Larissa. Six of them were in intensive care.
At least nine bodies have been identified through genetic matches so far, authorities said.
Fire Service spokesman Yiannis Artopios said the grim recovery effort was proceeding “centimeter by centimeter.”
“We can see that there are more (bodies) people there. Unfortunately they are in a very bad condition because of the collision,” Artopios told state television.
Workers say train system is unsafe
The cause of the crash is still not clear. The Larissa station manager arrested after the collision was charged on Wednesday with multiple counts of manslaughter and causing serious physical harm through negligence.
A judicial inquiry is also trying to establish why the two trains were travelling in opposite directions on the same track.
Railway workers’ associations, meanwhile, called strikes, halting national rail services and the subway in Athens.
They are protesting working conditions and what they described as a dangerous failure to modernise the Greek rail system due to a lack of public investment during the deep financial crisis, which spanned most of the previous decade and brought Greece to the brink of bankruptcy.
“Unfortunately, our long-standing demands for full-time staff hirings, better training and above all, implementation of up-to-date security systems have always ended up in the wastepaper basket,” Greece’s federation of railway employees said in a statement announcing Thursday’s strike.
Protests also erupted on Wednesday night, with demonstrators clashing with police in central Athens.
Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis resigned following the crash, and his replacement was tasked with setting up an independent inquiry looking into the causes of the crash.
“Responsibility will be assigned,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a televised address late Wednesday after visiting the collision site.
“We will work so that the words ‘never again’ … will not remain an empty pledge,” he said. “That I promise you.”
More than 300 people were on board the passenger train, many of them students returning from a holiday weekend and annual carnival celebrations around Greece.
Andreas Alikaniotis, a 20-year-old survivor of the crash, described how he and fellow students escaped from a jackknifed train car as fire approached, smashing windows and throwing luggage onto the ground outside to use as a makeshift landing pad.
Relatives of the victims and still-missing passengers lashed out at government officials and Italian-owned private rail operator Hellenic Train.
Dimitris Bournazis, whose father and 15-year-old brother remain unaccounted for, said phone calls to the rail company have been fruitless.
“Nobody has called me back.”
Pope Francis and European leaders sent messages of sympathy in the wake of the crash. Among them were Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, whose country is recovering from devastating earthquakes last month. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sent a message in Greek, writing, “The people of Ukraine share the pain of the families of the victims.
We wish a speedy recovery to all the injured.”