Greek station master court appearance delayed as anger simmers | transport news

Station manager faces life in prison if found guilty of negligent homicide after a train crash killed at least 57.

The station master involved in Greece’s worst-ever train disaster had his court hearing postponed by a day on Saturday as the country braced for more protests over the accident that killed at least 57 people.

Thousands of protesters have demonstrated across the country since Tuesday’s collision between a passenger train and a freight train, with public anger mounting over the government’s failure to manage the rail network.

More demonstrations were expected in several major cities on Saturday night, and a large gathering of students and railway workers was set for Sunday in the capital’s Syntagma Square, next to the parliament.

The station master in Larissa in central Greece has acknowledged responsibility for the accident, which caused the two trains to run along the same track for several kilometres.

The 59-year-old was due to appear in court on Saturday where he could be charged with negligent homicide, but will now appear on Sunday, his lawyer said.

The train was carrying many students returning from a holiday weekend, and at least nine young people studying at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki were among the dead, while another 26 were injured.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is seeking re-election this spring, has blamed the disaster on “tragic human error”.

But protests blamed on government mismanagement continued on Friday in the capital Athens and several major cities across Greece, with more planned for the weekend.

“What happened was not an accident, it was a crime,” Sophia Hatzopoulou, 23, a visibly angry philosophy student in Thessaloniki, told the AFP news agency. “We cannot watch all this happen and remain indifferent.”

She added that she and her classmates “knew people who were killed or injured.”

“It’s like a part of us was lost.”

The station manager faces up to life in prison if found guilty, but his lawyer has argued that other factors played a role.

“My client has accepted his share of responsibility,” lawyer Stefanos Pantzartzidis said Thursday. “But we must not focus on a tree when there is a forest behind it.”

The country’s public broadcaster ERT reported that the station manager had been appointed to the position just 40 days earlier – and after just three months of training.

Thousands rallied on Friday outside the Athens headquarters of operators Hellenic Train – which took over network operations in 2017 – to protest decades of failure to improve rail network safety, despite close calls in recent years.

Hundreds of people observed a minute’s silence outside the Greek parliament in tribute to the victims of the disaster.

At the demonstration in Syntagma Square, next to parliament, officers fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters who threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, an AFP reporter said. Around 3,000 people turned up for the demonstration.

A similar number demonstrated in Thessaloniki – Greece’s second-largest city – where police had reported clashes with protesters throwing stones and petrol bombs on Thursday.

Demonstrations also took place in other Greek cities on Friday: Around 700 turned up in Larissa, the city closest to the disaster site, while 500 demonstrated in the university city of Patras in the southwestern Peloponnese, according to police.

Roubini Leontari, chief physician at Larissa’s general hospital, told ERT on Thursday that more than 10 people were still unaccounted for, including two Cypriots.

Greece’s train services were paralyzed on Thursday by striking workers who claimed that successive administrations’ mismanagement of the network had contributed to the fatal collision.

The strike continued until Friday and is set to continue for another 48 hours.

A woman holds a placard reading “Call me when you arrive” during a protest in the port city of Thessaloniki, northern Greece [Giannis Papanikos/AP Photo]

The railway association says safety problems on the Athens-Thessaloniki railway line had been known for years.

Legal sources indicated that investigators were considering criminal charges against members of Hellenic Train’s management.

Police seized audio files and other items during a raid at Larissa train station in central Greece, where the crash occurred, a judicial source said.

For decades, Greece’s 2,552 km (1,585 mi) railway network has been plagued by mismanagement, poor maintenance and outdated equipment.

After the country’s transport minister resigned on Wednesday in the wake of the crash, his replacement, Giorgos Gerapetritis, promised a “full evaluation of the political system and the state”.

The safety systems on the line are still not fully automated, five years after state-owned Greek rail operator TrainOSE was privatized and sold to Italy’s Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane to become Hellenic Train.

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