Thousands of Greeks protest in wake of deadly train collision
By Diego Saez Papachristou
Athens, Mar 3 (EFE).- Grief and sorrow for the victims combined with indignation toward a state seen as negligent brought thousands of Greeks onto the streets Friday to protest the train collision three days ago that killed at least 57 people.
Police clashed with protesters here in the capital and in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city, but there were no reports of arrests.
“In this country it’s pure luck that I’m alive today and not among the dead in the accident,” university student Antonia Michalakakou told EFE at a demonstration outside parliament in Athens.
While the prime minister, conservative Kyriakos Mitsotakis, attributed the tragedy to “human error,” many of those who came out Friday in the capital and other cities described the crash as the predictable consequence of starving public services of resources.
The error cited by Mitsotakis was committed by the station master in the central city of Larissa, who has acknowledged having routed a freight train heading in one direction and a passenger train with 350 people aboard going the opposite way onto the same segment of track on the Athens-Thessaloniki line.
Austerity policies have seen massive cuts to staffing in a number of sectors, including health care and transportation, while the railways have also suffered from lack of maintenance.
“When trains and railroads operate manually in the era of development and automation, then something is going very wrong,” 34-year-old psychiatrist Thanasis Sarantis said during a protest Friday in the capital.
“When you’re a doctor and for weeks they don’t give you the days off to which you have a right, aren’t you going to make a mistake? It’s only human,” he said.
Since 2016, Greece has received some 700 million euros ($745 million) from the European Union to modernize rail infrastructure, including 110 million earmarked for the Athens-Thessaloniki line, European Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz said Friday.
“They want to put almost all the blame on the last link of the chain,” Sarantis said, referring to the criminal charges against the Larissa station master.
For Michalakakou, in a system with so much depending on a single individual, “someone was condemned in advance to commit a fatal error.”
Loved ones of the dead have also spoken out against holding the station master solely responsible for the accident.
“I believe that every young person fears that despite this tragedy, nothing changes in the country and everything remains the same, and that’s why they go out into the street to say ‘enough,'” Sarantis told EFE. EFE dsp/dr