On the route between the capital Athens and the port city of Thessaloniki, an Intercity with more than 350 people on board and an oncoming freight train on the same track collided just before midnight on Tuesday evening. Two carriages were crushed by the force of the collision near the town of Larisa, the dining car caught fire, numerous people were trapped in the derailed and wedged wrecks.
Railway workers across the country walked out on Thursday in protest at government failure to maintain the rail network. When the strike was announced, the railway workers' union denounced the years of neglect of the rail network by various governments. "Unfortunately, our constant demands for more permanent staff, better training and, above all, the introduction of modern safety technology were simply ignored." The strike was due to continue on Friday.
The subway workers in Athens also joined the strike on Thursday, the subways in the capital were at a standstill. The subway system is suffering from "similar problems" to the railway network, workers said. "Our union has been complaining about massive cuts in equipment and spare parts as well as enormous staff cuts for years."
Around 2,000 demonstrators gathered in Thessaloniki on Thursday evening. According to the police, Molotov cocktails and stones were thrown, but calm returned afterwards. Around 700 people protested in front of the headquarters of the Hellenic Train company in Athens. They commemorated the victims with a minute's silence.
As the police announced on Thursday, the death toll has now risen to 57. There may have been passengers on the train who had not yet been reported missing by their relatives, said a police spokeswoman. There is little hope of survivors.
A few hours after the accident, the station master responsible for the section of the line, who was on duty in the nearby town of Larisa at the time of the accident, was arrested. The 59-year-old is charged with negligent homicide and negligent bodily harm. If convicted, he faces life imprisonment. According to his lawyer, he admitted the allegations on Thursday.
According to media reports, the man was said to have had little experience - according to the television station ERT, he had only taken over the post a good month ago. He had previously worked in the Ministry of Education and completed a three-month training course for his new role.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke of a "tragic human error" on Wednesday after visiting the scene of the accident. Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis resigned. His successor Giorgos Gerapetritis apologized to the families of the victims on Thursday and announced a self-critical assessment of the accident.
According to the train drivers' union OSE, the route between Athens and Thessaloniki is in a very bad condition. All signals are controlled manually, said union boss Kostas Genidounias. In an open letter in February, railway employees pointed out that the security systems were incomplete and poorly maintained.
As part of a comprehensive privatization program as a result of the financial crisis, the Italian state railway Ferrovie di Stato (FS) took over the Greek railway in 2017.