Major protest rallies underway in Greece after rail disaster

Strikes halted ferries to the islands and halted public transportation services in Athens, where some 30,000 people gathered to join the protest

Greece protest
Protesters take part in a demonstration following the fatal collision of two trains, near the city of Larissa, in Athens, Greece, on March 8, 2023.ALEXANDROS AVRAMIDIS (REUTERS)

Demonstrations took place Wednesday in Athens and cities across Greece to protest the deaths of 57 people in the country’s worst train disaster, which exposed significant safety deficiencies.

Labor unions and student associations organized the demonstrations, while strikes halted ferries to the islands and halted public transportation services in Athens, where some 30,000 people gathered to join the protest.

Subways ran for a few hours to allow people to get to the demonstration in the capital. The strikes also closed state-run primary schools and had public hospitals operating at reduced capacity.

A passenger train slammed into an oncoming freight carrier near the northern Greek town of Tempe on Feb. 28, killing dozens of passengers, including many university students, in burning rail cars.

A stationmaster accused of placing the trains traveling in different directions on the same track has been charged with negligent homicide and other offenses.

But revelations of serious safety gaps on Greece’s busiest rail line have put the center-right government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the defensive. He has pledged the government’s full support with a judicial inquiry into the crash.

In the central city of Larissa, near the scene of the train crash, students holding black balloons chanted “No to profits over our lives!” A municipal band played music from a funeral march while leading the demonstration in the southern city of Patras.

“This is more than a train collision and a tragic railway accident. You get the sense that the country has derailed,” Nasos Iliopoulos, a spokesperson for Greece’s main left-wing opposition party, Syriza, said.

Senior officials from a European Union railway agency were expected in Athens as part of promised assistance to help Greece improve railway safety. The agency in the past publicly highlighted delays in Greece’s implementation of safety measures.

Safety experts from Germany also were expected to travel to Greece to help advise the government, Greek Transport Minister George Gerapetritis said.

“I, too, express my anguish and heartbreak over what happened in Tempe. This is an unprecedented national tragedy, which has scarred us all because of the magnitude of the tragedy: this unjustified loss of a great number of our fellow human beings,” Gerapetritis said.

He acknowledged major omissions in safety procedures on the night of the crash. Strikes have halted all national rail services since the collision occurred.

Wednesday’s protests were also backed by striking civil servants’ associations and groups marking International Women’s Day.

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