Greece puts aside more money, wants to complete signalling system

Image: Twitter. © Zased8. Zased8

The Greek government has announced a new set of measures to increase the safety system of the railways. The state budget will be increased and the signalling network will be completed. This was announced on Wednesday by the newly appointed Minister of Transport Giorgos Gerapetritis, who replaced the recently resigned Konstantinos Karamanlis.

The measures come after Greece witnessed the deadliest train crash in history last week. On 1 March, a freight train and a passenger train crashed into each other in the city of Larissa, after being on the same track for many kilometres, at full speed. The death toll a week later is 57 people, and many are injured.

The accident can be attributed to human error, as the station master in Larissa had ordered the passenger train to switch tracks, unaware that a freight train was on the same track. But the bigger picture is that the accident would not have happened if traffic control was not carried out manually, but indeed with a working safety system, one that is lacking on a large part of the Greek network.

More money for safety

On Wednesday afternoon, Gerapetritis announced an increase in the state budget to address understaffing and shortage of railway equipment. He said the government would step up procedures to fill in the gaps in the signalling network and upgrade the safety system. He also apologised for the worst railway tragedy in Greece, pledging swift steps to complete all necessary works to upgrade the system and prevent such accidents in the future.

The announcements coincided with the visit of a European delegation, to talk with Greek authorities about what technical support for the modernisation and improvement of the safety of the Greek railways is necessary. No concrete commitments were made. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis did mention two days earlier that Greece would apply to the EU for funding to maintain and improve the rail network.

Grief and anger at those deemed responsible

The new promises are likely to be overshadowed by grief and anger. Since the accident, Greek people have been on the streets, expressing their disappointment, fears, and rage against the institutions deemed responsible. On several occasions, groups of protesters took to the streets of Athens to directly address the Greek government.

This response can be understood in the light of years of mismanagement of the Greek government. Greece was supposed to adopt ETCS in the mid-2000s. Τhe first state budget for this purpose was approved in 2007, including the EU’s co-financing. Works started in 2014 and were supposed to complete by 2020, but this never happened.

Responsibility taken

Gerapetritis acknowledged on Wednesday that the tragic train crash would not have happened if there had been a complete rail telecommunications system in the country. Painfully, the same conclusion was already drawn by railway workers just a few weeks earlier. In the beginning of February, they warned that safety measures in Greece were insufficient to ensure safe train traffic across the country.

Kostas Genidounias, the Greek train drivers association president, stated in Geek media last week that if the systems had worked, the drivers would have seen the red signals and stopped 500 metres before the collision.

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Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is the editor-in-chief of RailFreight.com, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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