ATHENS, Greece – Prosecutors formally charged a stationmaster for his alleged role in a deadly train crash in Greece last week. Two trains traveling toward each other on the same track collided in Tempe, killing at least 57 people.
Reuters is calling the crash the worst rail disaster.
The passenger train was carrying 350 people at the time of the crash, BBC News reported. Many of the passengers were college-aged students who were returning to Thessaloniki after celebrating Greek Orthodox Lent.
The first car burst into flames making it “hard to identify the people who were inside,” a spokesperson with the fire brigade told BBC News.
“It’s a disaster, it’s catastrophic,” Kostas Malizos, a retired surgeon who returned to work to help injured passengers, told the BBC. “Families are crying tonight. Unfortunately, the majority of the lost people are young students. They left home, happy after the long weekend, to go for their studies or to see their relatives and never reached them.”
Officials said the Larissa stationmaster, 59, directed a passenger train and a freight train onto the same track while traveling in opposite directions, toward each other, The Associated Press reported. The stationmaster testified for about seven and a half hours Sunday about what led up to the head-on collision.
The stationmaster, who cannot be identified under Greek law, is facing multiple charges including, negligent homicide and bodily harm, as well as disrupting transport, the AP reported.
Stephanos Pantzartzidis, the stationmaster’s attorney, said of his client, “For about 20 cursed minutes he was responsible for the safety of the whole of central Greece.”
Pantzartzidis said his client has assumed responsibility for the crash but that there were other factors that contributed to the incident without going into detail on what the factors were, Reuters reported.
Rail workers have said the country’s cost-cutting and lack of investment in the rail system has had a dangerous effect on routes. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, while blaming the crash on human error, but added that years of “neglect could have contributed to the disaster,” Reuters reported.
“As prime minister, I owe everyone, but most of all the relatives of the victims, an apology,” Mitsotakis wrote on Facebook, according to Reuters. “Justice will very fast investigate the tragedy and determine liabilities.”
Following the crash, protests have sparked in Greece’s capital, Athens. The BBC reported about 12,000 people attended. Multiple arrests were made and several officers were injured. Protestors also released hundreds of black balloons in memory of the deceased.
The AP reported the railway unions organized the protest.
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