- Passenger trains, freight trains collide at high speed, at night
- Trains ran on the same track – regional governor
- 350 passengers were on the train from Athens on their way to Thessaloniki
- Collided near Larissa, site of the deadly rail disaster 50 years ago
- Greece’s aging railway system needs modernisation
Larissa, GREECE, March 1 (Reuters) – A passenger train and a freight train collided head-on in Greece on Tuesday evening, killing at least 36 people and injuring 85 as the country’s deadliest rail accident in decades derailed entire carriages.
Sixty-six of the injured were hospitalized, six of whom are in the intensive care unit, a firefighter said.
The accident happened when the passenger train came out of a tunnel. Derailed carriages, badly damaged with broken windows and thick clouds of smoke, could be seen at the scene, where rescuers searched for more survivors.
A passenger car stood on its side at almost ninety degrees from the rest of the wrecked train, while other derailed cars tilted precariously.
Stergios Minenis, a 28-year-old passenger who jumped to safety from the wreckage, said the crash was “nightmarish” with a loud bang followed by fire.
“We flipped the cart until we fell on the side… it was panic,” he said. “The fire was immediate, as we turned we were burned, the fire was right and left.”
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Around 250 passengers out of a total of 350 were evacuated safely to Thessaloniki on buses.
“Our priority now is to treat the injured, search for and find missing people in the ruins and offer psychological support to the victims’ relatives from psychologists who are on their way to the city of Larissa,” said government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou.
A passenger told state broadcaster ERT that he escaped after smashing the train window with his suitcase.
“It was like an earthquake,” Angelos Tsiamoura, another passenger, told ERT.
The two trains had been on the same track when they crashed into each other.
An investigation by a prosecutor’s office and the police is ongoing into what caused the accident, a Hellenic Train official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Police temporarily arrested the station commander in Larissa and had summoned witnesses for questioning, ERT said.
Hellenic Train expressed in a statement “its deep sorrow at the tragic accident.”
Overnight rescue workers were seen carrying torches in carriages searching for trapped passengers.
– The evacuation of passengers is underway under very difficult conditions given the severity of the collision between the two trains, said fire service spokesman Vassilis Varthakogiannis.
“We are living through a tragedy. We are pulling people out alive, injured … there are dead.”
Local media said the train left Athens at around 19:30 (0530 GMT). The fire service was notified of the accident shortly before midnight. The freight train had traveled from Thessaloniki to Larissa.
In 1972, 19 people were killed when two trains collided head-on outside Larissa.
Greece’s aging railway system needs to be modernised, with many trains running on single tracks, and signaling and automatic control systems still need to be installed in many areas.
Greece sold rail operator TRAINOSE to Italy’s Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane in 2017 as part of the international bailout program and expects hundreds of millions of euros to be invested in rail infrastructure in the coming years.
According to the Italian company’s website, it is the main provider of passenger and freight rail transport in Greece and operates 342 passenger and commercial routes a day.
Reporting by Karolina Tagaris, Renee Maltezou, Angeliki Koutantou; Written by Renee Maltezou and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Grant McCool, Stephen Coates, Michael Perry, Simon Cameron-Moore and Christina Fincher
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