Greece train crash: What we know so far

News from BBC

Two trains have collided in northern Greece, killing at least 57 people and injuring dozens of others. Here’s what we know about the incident so far.

Greece train crash: What we know so far

What happened?

A passenger service carrying some 350 people crashed with a freight train shortly after leaving Larissa just before midnight on Tuesday.

The incident happened as the passenger train emerged from a tunnel in the municipality of Tempi.

The first four carriages of the passenger train were derailed, and the first two caught fire and were “almost completely destroyed”, Thessaly regional governor Kostas Agorastos says.

How many casualties were there?

At least 57 people died and dozens more were injured, some of them seriously.

A report by the Greek public broadcaster ERT said members of the passenger train’s crew were among the dead. It said most of the casualties had been recovered from the third carriage, which was derailed.

More than 150 firefighters, using 17 vehicles and four cranes, were involved in the search on Wednesday and rescue workers were still going through burned and buckled carriages, searching for victims, on Thursday.

Who was on the train?

The passenger train involved was about two-thirds full with many young people on board, Reuters news agency reports, citing eyewitnesses.

It was travelling from Athens to Thessaloniki, which has a sizeable student population, and it is believed many would have been returning there after a holiday for Greek Orthodox Lent.

The Greek fire department has said identifying people is proving “very difficult” because temperatures exceeded 1,300C (2,370F) where the fire broke out in the first carriage. Many families have given DNA samples to help identification efforts.

Thessaloniki’s student associations are calling for a full investigation with no “cover-up”.

The freight train was heading from Thessaloniki to Larissa.

What went wrong?

The passenger train and the freight train were travelling in opposite directions but ended up on the same track – it is not clear how this happened.

On Wednesday, Greece’s prime minister’s suggestion that “tragic human error” was to blame caused anger among many Greeks, who saw the crash as an accident waiting to happen, says the BBC’s Nick Beake in Larissa.

A local stationmaster, based at Larissa which the passenger train had passed through, has been arrested. Police say the 59-year-old has been charged with manslaughter by negligence and grievous bodily harm by negligence.

The stationmaster, who is in charge of signalling, denies wrongdoing and has blamed the accident on a possible technical failure.

What have survivors said?

Some survivors have described the moment the trains collided as like an earthquake.

“We heard a big bang,” said 28-year-old passenger Stergios Minenis, who jumped to safety from the wreckage.

“We were turning over in the carriage until we fell on our sides and until the commotion stopped. Then there was panic. Cables, fire. The fire was immediate. As we were turning over we were being burned. Fire was right and left,” Mr Minenis told Reuters.

“For 10, 15 seconds it was chaos. Tumbling over, fires, cables hanging, broken windows, people screaming, people trapped.”

Another passenger named Lazos told the newspaper Protothema: “I wasn’t hurt, but I was stained with blood from other people who were injured near me.”

What has the official response been?

The Greek government has declared three days of national mourning and said the cost of the victims’ funerals would be paid for from the public purse.

The transport minister has resigned as a “sign of respect” for the people who had died. Kostas Karamanlis said he was taking responsibility for the government’s failure to modernise the country’s railways in the three-and-a-half years it had been in power.

Visiting the accident scene on Wednesday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis vowed to find out what happened and ensure it never happened again.

Greece’s President Katerina Sakellaropoulou broke off an official visit to Moldova to visit the scene, laying flowers beside the wreckage.

What have railway workers said?

The union which represents workers from Greece’s Hellenic Train – the company responsible for maintaining Greece’s railways – blamed successive governments’ “disrespect” towards Greek railways for leading to this “tragic result”.

According to local media, Nikos Tsikalakis said on Wednesday that more than one factor was needed for such an incident to happen, and the complete picture of circumstances was not yet known.

In an interview with Radio ENA, he referenced a lack of workers in the rail network – saying that while there should be more than 2,000 employees nationally, there are currently only 750.

Train drivers also say there have been long-running problems with the electronic systems that are supposed to warn them of danger ahead.

“Nothing works. Everything happens manually throughout the Athens-Thessaloniki network. Neither the indicators, nor the traffic lights, nor the electronic traffic control work,” train drivers’ association president Kostas Genidounias told ERT.

How common are rail crashes in Greece?

The deaths in Tuesday night’s crash represent a significant increase on the number of rail-related deaths the country has seen over the past decade, according to figures from the EU.

Greece had the highest rate of rail-related deaths relative to train kilometres travelled in the three years from 2018 to 2020 and ranked second highest out of all European Union countries in 2021, the latest data available shows. There were 0.7 deaths per million km, well above the EU average of 0.1.

However, the overall number of deaths from rail accidents has not been high. It ranked 24th among EU nations for rail-related deaths per head of population. In 2021 there were six deaths, 0.6 per million population, below the EU average of 1.5 per million population.

The majority of rail accidents and fatalities in Greece in the five years to 2021 resulted from accidents such as pedestrians being hit by trains. During this period, there were two deaths from accidents involving the collision of trains.


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