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HomeWorldGreek parties bleed votes between a train disaster and election

Greek parties bleed votes between a train disaster and election


Athens, Greece – Anastasia Adamidi’s fellow students describe her as a brilliant young woman.

The 24-year-old dental postgraduate student from Cyprus entered the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki late on Feb. 28. She was scheduled to begin her second semester on March 6.

But her family held her funeral on that day instead, and the prosthetic dentistry department canceled that day’s classes.

Adamidou was one of 57 people killed when her passenger train collided head-on with a freight train traveling at a combined speed of 280 km/h in Greece’s worst rail accident ever.

“Part of her studies have been student tracking, and it’s no coincidence that everyone has something good to say about her,” said Thanos Venetis, a fellow doctoral student.

“She always did something for someone with a smile on her face. She was an excellent colleague, the kind of colleague everyone would like to have,” he told Al Jazeera.

A photo her family gave to the media showed a smiling brunette in a powder blue suit and subfusc on the day of her bachelor’s degree.

The National Traffic Coordinator’s office in the OSE building, where he plots the progress of trains on a paper map (John Psaropoulos/Al Jazeera)

People left flowers outside the lab where Adamidi had worked. Someone pinned her picture.

“In memory of the tragic loss of Anastasia Adamidi, who was taken so young, we inform you that scheduled classes in prosthetics, clinical practice and laboratory work on Monday, March 6 will not take place,” her department announced.

The train disaster, and the fact that many young people died in it, has prompted Greeks to search outside the Larissa station master for political culprits, who, according to leaked testimony, confessed to accidentally diverting the northbound passenger train to the south. track sent.

Several polls now show the ruling conservative New Democracy party has lost four points ahead of elections due in July, upending its expectations of a second term from a one-party system.

New Democracy has now said it will ensure there are two stationmasters on each shift when train services resume on March 22.

Public recruitment

Through an expedited process that bypassed the normal state evaluation process through the Supreme Personnel Selection Board, New Democracy hired 73 station masters, including the known culprit.

“That is unacceptable,” said Christos Retsinas, a former head of safety at Hellenic Train, a subsidiary of the Hellenic Railways Organisation, which operates the rolling stock.

“The excuse was that the Supreme Court is taking too long. The fact is that you only go through this accelerated process if you do political favors,” Retsinas told Al Jazeera.

“They also gave them shortened training – four months of theory and one month of practice… they are not properly trained. And then the selection committee passed them all. Wasn’t there one person who didn’t qualify? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

He believed it would have been safer and just as quick to temporarily reinstate retired stationmasters.

The government has taken issue with the fact that last November the Larissa station master failed to use an automated route selection system that could have prevented the accident by automatically resetting the points. But it has not commented on the recruiting or training process that led to this failure.

Security systems

There is also great political responsibility in Greece’s failure to install the full set of automated safety equipment required by EU law across the country.

The route selection subsystem is only part of that equipment, the so-called European Train Control System (ETCS), which also includes train monitoring, automatic signaling, speed control and emergency braking mechanisms.

Larissa was one of 16 stations with work still to be done as successive governments failed to honor a 2014 contract to install ETCS across the country.

This practically meant that only the Larissa stationmaster could see the passenger train going onto the wrong track. Hellenic Train, operating train 62, could only see its position on a GPS screen, but not its speed, direction or track.

Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE), the state owner of the rail infrastructure responsible for the track and stations, has a national traffic coordinator who also couldn’t see what was going on.

Hellenic Train installed this temporary GPS system to monitor the position of trains, but it does not indicate direction, speed or track
Hellenic Train installed this temporary GPS system to monitor the position of trains, but it does not display their direction, speed or track (John Psaropoulos/Al Jazeera)

Al Jazeera was given access to room 617 in OSE’s city-block building, which houses the traffic coordinator. He can talk to drivers and station masters over a VHF radio and plot the progress of trains on a paper map, but has no information except what is given to him.

The ETCS would have given him the option to independently ask what train 62 was doing.

The radical left opposition coalition (Syriza), in power from 2015 to 2019, shifted the blame for the breach of the ETCS contract to New Democracy, saying it left office with the contract for 68 percent complete. New Democracy has denied that.

“When work stopped in 2017, 17 of the 52 (rural) stations were equipped with automated signaling and monitoring,” says minister without portfolio Yiorgos Gerapetritis, who has temporarily taken over the Ministry of Transport.

“In those 17 stations, we had to do extra work, essentially redoing all the work in half…because the systems weren’t communicating,” Gerapetritis said. “So about 18 percent of the work was done (while Syriza was in office).”

New Democracy has said it has now brought contract fulfillment to 70 percent.

Neither New Democracy nor Syriza explained the details of why so much of the work had to be redone, why the contract was not fulfilled by 2016, its original deadline, and why it was not fulfilled during New Democracy’s nearly four years in power .

In any case, rail transport appeared to be a vote loser for both parties, as Syriza has picked up none of the support that New Democracy has lost.

Both sides demanded a parliamentary inquiry, but that has so far only yielded defensive speeches from ex-transport ministers.

Italian privatization

Curiously, neither New Democracy nor Syriza have blamed Italy’s State Railways, which bought Hellenic Train in 2017 and cut jobs.

That may have weakened safety in what is still a manually operated rail system.

“Before 2019, when the rulebook changed, one of four train inspectors was responsible for traffic,” said Panayotis Paraskevopoulos, union president of OSE until 2020.

“During the privatization they removed those tasks. But the Chief Inspector was a safety valve as he got the paperwork from the stationmaster along with the itinerary. He and the train driver were responsible for road safety,” Paraskevopoulos told Al Jazeera.

“The new management said this would be done by the longest-serving steward, but they never made it an official title.”

Hellenic Train also eliminated another safety valve.

“In the past, the (national) traffic coordinator used to have an experienced train driver and an experienced train inspector,” says Retsinas.

“They were in contact with station masters and train drivers all over the country. If there were errors, they were fixed in two or three minutes… Hellenic Train deprecated that setting at the end of 2020.

Hellenic Train did not respond to a request for comment.

The government has said trains will observe lower speed limits in areas without automated safety systems, and those systems will be operational nationwide in October.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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