Train crash wreckage scoured as anger rises across Greece

Government accused of rail safety failures, as several Greeks wait to hear if their relatives are among victims.

A woman holds a placard that reads "Call me when you arrive" during a protest in the port city of Thessaloniki, northern Greece
A woman holds a placard that reads 'Call me when you arrive' during a protest in Thessaloniki after Greece's worst recorded rail accident [Giannis Papanikos/AP]

Thousands of Greek students are protesting for a third consecutive day as anger mounts after the country’s worst train tragedy, in which at least 57 people died.

In Athens, some 2,000 people, mostly university students of similar ages to the crash victims, gathered in the city centre on Friday.

Similar protests were to be held in Larissa, near the site of the disaster, Thessaloniki and Patras.

Black sheets were draped at the entrances of several universities. In Larissa, white roses were thrown at the tracks of the local train station.

Frustration is boiling as protesters blast successive governments for failing to improve rail network safety.

The country was rocked on Tuesday as a passenger train collided with a freight train just before midnight, after running on the same track for several kilometres.

Many of those on board, estimated to be more than 350 people, are still unaccounted for. Most of the victims were students in their 20s returning from a long weekend.

Authorities suggested “human error” to explain the train collision, in which two carriages were demolished and a buffet car caught fire, trapping many victims inside.

The Larissa station master on duty at the time of the disaster has been arrested and charged with negligent homicide. He has accepted partial responsibility for failing to reroute the trains, and faces a possible life sentence if convicted.

Train unionists have said safety problems on the Athens-Thessaloniki railway line have been known for years.

The rail union federation denounced a “lack of respect towards Greece’s rail network by successive governments over the years, which led to this tragic result”.

‘I have no information’

Meanwhile, recovery teams spent a third day scouring the wreckage.

The force of the head-on collision and resulting fire have complicated the task of determining the death toll. Officials are matching parts of dismembered and burned bodies with tissue samples to establish the number.

The remains were being returned to families in closed caskets following the identification of victims through next-of-kin DNA samples.

Relatives of passengers still listed as unaccounted-for waited outside a hospital in the central city of Larissa for news.

Among them was Mirella Ruci, whose 22-year-old son, Denis, remained missing.

“My son is not on any official list so far and I have no information. I am pleading with anyone who may have seen him, in rail car 5, seat 22, to contact me if they may have seen him,” Ruci, who struggled to stop her voice from cracking, told reporters.

Health ministry officials said all victim identifications would be carried out by cross-matching DNA samples from relatives due to the condition of so many of the bodies.

Protesters across the country were expected to hold silent demonstrations on Friday evening, while unions urged railway workers to strike for a second consecutive day.

In Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, police said a protest of about 2,000 demonstrators turned violent on Thursday, with protesters throwing stones and petrol bombs.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is seeking re-election this year, said after visiting the crash site on Wednesday, “Everything shows that the drama was, sadly, mainly due to a tragic human error.”

Government spokesman Yiannis Economou said an inquiry would examine the “chronic delays in implementing railway works – delays caused by chronic public sector malaise and decades of failure”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies