Greek rail workers stage 24-hour strike after deadly train crash kills 43
Smoke rises from trains as firefighters and rescuers operate after a collision near Larissa city, Greece, early Wednesday, March 1, 2023. | AP

Rail workers in Greece staged a 24-hour strike Thursday in protest over what they describe as a dangerous failure to modernize the Greek railway system and the lack of public investment in the network.

This comes days after the country’s deadliest rail crash in northern Greece which killed at least 43 people when a train from Athens to Thessaloniki carrying 350 passengers crashed head on into a freight train shortly before midnight on Tuesday.

Greek Railroad Workers Union President Yannis Nitsas said that eight rail workers were among the dead, including the two drivers of the freight train as well as the two drivers on board the passenger train.

Survivors said the impact threw several passengers through the windows of train cars. ERT television channel quoted rescuers, saying they found some victims’ bodies 100 to 130 feet from the impact site.

One passenger, Stefanos Gogakos, said that it felt like an explosion, while from his rear carriage, flames could be seen at the front of the train. “The glass in the windows shattered and fell on top of us,” he told ERT.

“My head hit the roof of the carriage with the jolt. Some people started to climb out through the windows because there was smoke in the carriage. The doors were closed but in a few minutes train staff opened them and we got out.”

Multiple cars derailed and at least three burst into flames. On Wednesday, one carriage lay atop the crumpled remains of another two.

“Temperatures reached 1,300°C degrees, which makes it even more difficult to identify the people who were in it,” fire service spokesperson Vassilis Varthakoyiannis said.

Many of the 350 people aboard the passenger train were students returning from Greece’s raucous Carnival, officials said.

The strike action by the rail union on Thursday halted national rail services and the Athens subway.

In a statement, the union said: “Unfortunately, our long-standing demands for staff hirings, better training, and above all use of modern safety technology always end up in the wastepaper basket.”

The union has long argued that the network has suffered from major underinvestment, particularly during the debt crisis and subsequent privatization and budget cuts imposed on Greece by the European Union.

The cause of the crash is still unclear. A station manager arrested after the collision was charged on Wednesday with multiple counts of manslaughter and causing serious physical harm through negligence.

A judicial inquiry has been set up by the government to establish why the two trains were traveling in opposite directions on the same track.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called the collision “a horrific rail accident without precedent in our country,” and pledged a full, independent investigation.

Meanwhile, Greece’s transport minister Kostas Karamanlis resigned, saying that he had made “every effort” to upgrade the railway network that was in a state that did not “befit the 21st century.

“When something as tragic as this happens, it’s impossible to continue as if nothing has happened.”

On Wednesday, several hundred protesters took to the streets of Athens to demonstrate outside Hellenic Train’s headquarters.

The protesters blamed the deadly disaster on the government’s privatization of the railway operator.

The Secretariat of the Greek workers’ organization PAME said: “The causes lie in the policy of commercialization and privatization of the railways that the Syriza government started in 2017.”

Minor clashes broke out as some protesters threw stones at the offices of the rail operator and riot police and set dumpsters on fire. No arrests or injuries were reported.

This article features material combined from two Morning Star reports.


Roger McKenzie
Roger McKenzie

Roger McKenzie is the International Editor of Morning Star, Britain’s daily socialist newspaper. He is the author of the book "African Uhuru: The Fight for African Freedom in the Rise of the Global South" published by Manifesto Press.