Greek transport minister Kostas Karamanlis has resigned after at least 36 people died and 85 were injured when a freight train collided with a passenger train on the country’s main railway line from Athens to Thessaloniki.
The accident on Tuesday night, the worst railway crash in Greece in decades, occurred as the two trains were reportedly travelling on the same track in opposite directions.
Many of those on the passenger train were students returning after a long Greek holiday weekend. Survivors speaking to Greek media said the impact of the collision was so strong that it threw several passengers through the windows. Rescuers found victims’ bodies as far as 40 metres from the railway line.
Roubini Leontari, the chief coroner at Larissa’s general hospital, said most of the victims were young people and some would need to be identified by their DNA.
The stationmaster in the nearby city of Larissa was arrested on Wednesday and has been charged with misdemeanour and mass deaths through negligence, according to police officials.
Karamanlis said he felt it was his “duty” to step down “as a basic indication of respect for the memory of the people who died so unfairly”.
He said when his government took over in 2019 it had inherited a railway system unfit for the 21st century but that his ministry’s efforts to improve it had not been enough to prevent Tuesday’s accident.
Announcing three days of official mourning as he visited the scene of the accident on Wednesday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said: “I can assure you we will find out the reasons for this tragedy and will do whatever possible so this will not happen again.”
The Greek railway known as TrainOSE sold its trains to the Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane group in 2017 as part of the country’s Eurozone bailout programme and was renamed Hellenic Train in 2021. It kept control of the railway network.
The newly formed company was expected to invest hundreds of millions on needed infrastructure. In a statement on Wednesday, the company said it would “ensure the maximum support to the injured and their families”.
A fire brigade spokesperson said passengers were still being rescued on Wednesday afternoon under “difficult conditions” because of the severity of the crash. “We are living through a tragedy. We are pulling out people who are alive, injured . . . and there are many dead,” he said.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen expressed her condolences to the Greek people, writing on Twitter, “The whole of Europe is mourning with you.”