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On February 28, a passenger train collided head-on with a freight train near Thessaloniki, Greece, killing at least 57 people and causing injury to more than 100 others. It was one of the worst rail disasters in the country’s history and sparked widespread protests and strikes over the state of the transport system. Here’s everything that we know so far about what happened in Greece and what is being done to prevent such tragedies in the future.
What caused the train crash?
According to investigators, the crash occurred because of human error and faulty signaling equipment. The stationmaster at Adendro, where the accident took place, allegedly failed to switch the tracks correctly and allowed both trains to enter the same line.
The stationmaster in question has now been arrested and is being charged with manslaughter and causing bodily harm by negligence. He appeared in court on Sunday but did not enter a plea yet.
Who were the victims of the crash?
The passenger train was carrying about 300 people roughly 315 miles from Athens to Thessaloniki, many of them students returning from their holidays. Among the dead were two children aged 4 and 6, a pregnant woman, a newlywed couple, and several foreign nationals from nearby countries like Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, and Ukraine.
The freight train involved in the crash was transporting cars from Thessaloniki to Athens and had two crew members on board who survived with minor injuries. No crew members on the freight train were killed.
The Greek government’s response
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis apologized to the nation for the train crash on Sunday and vowed to fix the broken rail system. He said he would launch an independent audit of all railway infrastructure and equipment and replace outdated technology with modern systems. Mitsotakis also announced that he would appoint a new transport minister after the current transport minister resigned following public outcry over his handling of the crisis.
Protests and the public reaction
The train crash triggered massive protests and strikes across Greece by workers who blamed years of underinvestment and mismanagement for endangering their lives. Thousands of people marched in Athens and Thessaloniki on Wednesday demanding better safety standards and more accountability from those responsible for overseeing transport services.
Several trade unions also called for a general strike that continues to disrupt air travel, public transport, schools, hospitals, banks, media outlets, and other sectors.
The train crash also cast a shadow over one of Greece’s most prestigious cultural events, The Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival (TIDF). The festival organizers decided to cancel their closing ceremony on Sunday as a sign of respect for those who lost their lives or were severely injured in the accident.
TIDF also dedicated some screenings to those who died in the train crash and held moments of silence for the tragedy before each film. The festival director said he hoped that documentaries could help raise awareness about social issues such as transport safety.