The stationmaster involved in Greece’s deadliest train accident is set to appear in court on Sunday on charges of placing two trains traveling in opposite directions on the same track after his action was postponed from Saturday.
At least 57 people were killed when a passenger train slammed into a freighter late Tuesday in Tempe, 370 kilometers north of Athens.
The government blames human error, and the stationmaster, 59, is charged with negligent homicide and bodily harm, as well as disrupting transport.
Days of protests against the alleged lack of security measures in the Greek rail network have taken place in the aftermath of the disaster.
Stephanos Pantzartzidis, the stationmaster’s lawyer, told reporters waiting outside the court in the central Greek city of Larissa on Saturday that “very important new evidence has emerged that forces us to request a postponement” in his client’s statement, or making affidavits.
Tuesday’s train crash was the deadliest on record in Greece, killing at least 57 people, 54 of whom have been identified
Workers, supported by a crane, try to remove debris from the railway lines after the collision in Tempe, north of Athens
Authorities have not released the name of the accused stationmaster.
Funerals for some of the people who died in the crash, many of them in their teens and twenties, took place in northern Greece.
The force of the crash and ensuing fire complicated the task of identifying the victims, which is done through DNA testing of next of kin.
Some families have not yet received the remains of their loved ones. Police said 54 people have been positively identified.
Demonstrations to protest the circumstances that led to the tragedy continued on Saturday.
A peaceful rally in the center of Athens, organized by the youth wing of the Communist Party, attracted more than a thousand people.
In Athens, a lot also gathered to mourn the lives lost in the tragedy. They were depicted lighting candles and releasing black balloons.
Also on Saturday, one of three members of an expert panel appointed by the government to investigate and issue a report on the clash resigned after opposition parties and some media outlets criticized his appointment.
Thanasis Ziliaskopoulos served as chairman and chief executive of the country’s train company from 2010 to 2015 and is currently the chairman of the Greek agency responsible for the privatization of state-owned properties.
A meeting organized by a railway workers’ union is scheduled for Sunday, also in Athens.
The union, which organizes ongoing labor strikes, has asked the public to join in.
People hold a demonstration outside the Greek Parliament in Athens, Greece, on Friday after the crash
Civilians marched in Athens to protest for the deaths of at least 57 people when a passenger train and a freight train collided
Firefighters and rescuers operate after a collision in Tempe near the town of Larissa, Greece, Wednesday, March 1, 2023
Train wreckage lies on the railway tracks after a collision in Tempe, about 376 kilometers (235 miles) north of Athens, near the town of Larissa, Greece, Wednesday, March 1, 2023
People hold candles and black balloons to honor the 57 victims of Greece’s deadliest train accident, during a protest in front of the parliament in Athens, Greece, March 3, 2023
People are gathering in Greece to mourn the loss of 57 people and demand change in the rail industry
Greek media have published scathing reports of mismanagement and neglect of infrastructure in Greece’s railways.
Protesters blame Tuesday’s crash on the government’s under-investment in the railways, a result of budget cuts between 2010 and 2017, and the train operator.
In the violent collision, carriages were thrown off the rails, crushed and burst into flames as a high-speed passenger train with more than 350 people on board struck a freight train at speeds believed to reach 100 miles per hour.
A former head of the railway workers’ union, Panayotis Paraskevopoulos, told the Greek newspaper Kathimerini that the signaling system in the area where the accident took place broke down six years ago and has never been repaired.
Station masters and drivers communicate via walkie-talkies and rail switches are operated manually over sections of the main railway line from the capital Athens to the northern city of Thessaloniki.
The stationmaster, who previously worked as a doorman at the Greek state railways, was transferred to a desk job at the Ministry of Education in 2011 when Greek creditors demanded staff cuts at the railways.
He rejoined the company in June 2022 and was appointed station master in Larissa, a major rail hub, in January after five months of training.
Fire spokesman Vassilis Varthakoyiannis previously told media that the collision sparked fires with temperatures so high, reaching 1,300 degrees, that it was “difficult to identify the people inside.”
Flags across the country were flown at half-mast on Friday during a three-day official period of national mourning.
At universities, protesters also draped the entrances of several universities with black sheets.
White roses were thrown on the tracks of the train station in Larissa, Al Jazeera reported.
Police searched a rail coordination office in Larissa on Friday and removed evidence as part of an ongoing investigation.
The train and freight operator, which has since been privatized and renamed Hellenic Train, is now owned by the Italian Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane.