As night falls, an eerie silence fills Syntagma Square in central Athens on Friday, March 3. Nearly 4,000 people are holding black balloons and candles to pay tribute to the victims of Tuesday night’s violent train collision near Larissa in central Greece. “It’s a quiet vigil. But this is just the beginning, people’s anger and rage could soon explode,” predicted Vassilis, who is still reeling from the tragic deaths of at least 57 people in “the worst rail disaster the country has ever seen. ” Among the victims are many students from Thessaloniki (Northern Greece) who were returning from Athens after a long weekend. “Nobody can come to terms with the fact that they were still children, and that this accident could have been avoided,” the 50-year-old continued. He also admitted to having taken this train line, which had a “bad reputation,” only once in his life.
Three days after the tragedy, the revelations about the dilapidation of a railway network that has been continuously deteriorating since the economic crisis (2010-2018), the lack of a modern signaling system, and the multiple unheeded warnings from railway unions and experts about the network’s failures have left a bitter taste. Neither the traffic lights nor the electronic traffic control system worked, and the station managers did not even have walkie-talkies to communicate. The Larissa station manager was inexperienced, according to the public television station ERT, having received only three months of training before being appointed to the position.
The 59-year-old man has admitted to being negligent. Charged with “negligent homicide” and “involuntary bodily harm,” he is due to appear in court on Saturday. But for the Greeks, “it was not just human error.” “It was not an accident, but a crime,” as they have been chanting for three days in multiple demonstrations across the country. “The state should have modernized the network. It is totally responsible,” said Evgenia Theodosopoulou. The pensioner, who knew some of the people traveling on the train, shed a couple of tears. The seemingly peaceful rally ended with Molotov cocktails and stones being thrown at the police.
‘Delays’ and ‘chronic faults’
On Thursday, March 2, Greek government spokesperson Ioannis Oikonomou admitted that the rail network suffered from “chronic faults” and acknowledged “delays” in modernizing the railroads, even though the European Commission has given Greece 700 million euros since 2014 to develop 16 railroad projects .
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But Greek anger is not only directed at the current government. Earlier on Friday, nearly 5,000 students marched to the offices of the Hellenic Train company, which was bought out in 2017 by the state-owned Italian company Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane as part of the privatization program demanded by the country’s creditors (European Central Bank, European Union, International Monetary Fund). They wrote slogans on the windows in red paint – “assassins,” “your profits are soaked in the blood of students.” “We consider that this company, the current government, but also the previous governments, have responsibilities. They are not interested in the safety of citizens, they only want to get rich by saving on electronic systems or personnel that could have saved lives,” raged Dora Pori, president of the union of agronomy students. “This cannot go on, we must have infrastructures worthy of a European country!” she added.
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