At daybreak, the extent of the serious accident only becomes clear: the scene of the accident is like a field of rubble, the front carriages of both trains were almost folded up by the impact and burned out in part, as drone footage on Greek state television shows.
At least 32 people were killed in a head-on collision between a passenger train and a freight train in central Greece late Tuesday evening. More than 50 passengers were taken to nearby hospitals with serious injuries.
The death toll could still rise. The rescue work with cranes and heavy equipment and also with sniffer dogs continues on Wednesday morning. Rescue workers and reporters on site are stunned. How is it possible that the Intercity from Athens to Thessaloniki with around 350 passengers on board was traveling on the same track as the oncoming freight train, even though the route has been expanded to two lanes?
Cause of accident unclear
The railway boss responsible for the section had already been arrested, it said on state television. Other railroad workers and technicians would be questioned. The traffic authority of the nearby city of Larisa has started investigations into the cause of the accident. Many connecting railway lines were closed to train traffic for the time being.
Meanwhile, desperate relatives gathered at the train station in the northern Greek port of Thessaloniki at night, and telephone hotlines were set up. Many of the dead can reportedly only be identified by DNA testing. Around 200 passengers, who were not injured or only slightly injured, were taken by bus from the scene of the accident to Thessaloniki, 150 kilometers away. But some family members waited in vain. Many of the passengers are said to have been young people, students who were on their way to the University of Thessaloniki after a long weekend due to a public holiday.
"I thought I was going to die," a passenger told the Kathimerini newspaper. According to his own statements, the young man was sitting in one of the rear wagons. He sought protection on the ground, people screamed and cried. Other passengers reported that they smashed in the windows and managed to get out of the half-tipped carriage in the dark.
Significant problems despite modernization
Despite the modernization with new bridges and tunnels and two tracks along the entire 500-kilometer Athens-Thessaloniki route, there are significant problems with the electrical coordination of traffic control, according to state television.
"We're driving from one section of the line to another by radio like in the old days. The station managers give us the green light," said Kostas Genidounias, president of the train drivers' union on state radio. He was unable to say why this is happening and why no modern control system works. The Greek railways (Hellenic Train) are operated by the Italian state railway Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane (FS).