Greece was still waiting for a final accounting of what went wrong and who may have been responsible one year after its deadliest train crash killed 57 people.

The nation was plunged into mourning but also mass protests in outrage over the head-on impact between trains allowed to run on the same track for 19 minutes before colliding.

Though 34 railway employees and officials face charges over the February 28, 2023 disaster, a trial isn’t expected to start before June.

The official enquiry into the crash has also been proceeding slowly and investigators were not due to finish questioning until March 8.

Maria Karystianou, a paediatrician whose 19-year-old daughter Marthi was killed in the collision, called the crash a “crime”.

Officials “knew there were deadly risks”, she told AFP in an interview. “This can’t be considered a case of negligence.”

The disaster happened when a freight train and a passenger train with 350 aboard — mostly students — collided near a tunnel outside the central city of Larissa shortly before midnight.

Passengers described being trapped among smashed carriages and burning debris as the train keeled over. They broke windows to try to escape.

The flames left many bodies charred beyond recognition and some passengers could only be identified from body parts.

Safety improvements have begun but are proceeding slowly and in sections. Several failings that led to this disaster remain uncorrected.

For decades, Greece’s 2,552-kilometre (1,585-mile) rail network has been plagued by mismanagement, poor maintenance and obsolete equipment.

‘No faith’ in Greek justice

More than 700,000 people have signed a petition launched by Karystianou, demanding reforms to make it easier to prosecute ministers and lawmakers accused of crimes.

“I am determined to take this to the end,” Karystianou said, adding that she has “no faith” in Greek justice and would submit her case to the European Court of Human Rights.

The tragedy prompted three days of national mourning and mass protests in several cities, with demonstrators hurling rocks at the offices of the railway’s Italian-owned operating company, Hellenic Train.

Following the public outcry over the crash, the stationmaster on duty during the collision and his supervisor are in pre-trial detention.

The 60-year-old stationmaster has admitted partial responsibility for the crash, but the official enquiry is ongoing.

Greek media said he was left unsupervised during a busy holiday weekend despite having little experience.

The minister then in charge, Kostas Karamanlis, told a parliamentary committee of enquiry this month that on-duty staff were to blame.

If they had not “serially broken” safety regulations, the crash wouldn’t have occurred, he alleged.

Karamanlis, who resigned as transport minister and was later re-elected as a member of parliament, argued that even automated systems would not necessarily have averted the accident “because these systems need people to operate them”.

Also, relatives suspect the freight train may have been carrying undeclared chemicals.

Marthi’s mother Karystianou said there was a “huge” explosion after the collision that gave rescuers chemical burns.

“It is certain the freight train was carrying illegal cargo. We’ve found substances used to adulterate fuel,” she told AFP.

Karamanlis said his office had no information, while Hellenic Trains said the train was carrying food, beer and steel wire.

‘Human error’ or poor maintenance

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis promised one year ago that the tragedy would be “fully” investigated.

“Everything shows that the drama was, sadly, mainly due to a tragic human error,” Mitsotakis said in a televised address after visiting the disaster site.

He later apologised for that comment and said he would improve Greece’s railway safety. He was re-elected three months later.

Greece’s rail system has been dogged by safety fears.

In an open letter before the tragedy, train staff said track safety systems were incomplete and poorly maintained.

A safety supervisor resigned the year before the crash, warning infrastructure upgrades pending since 2016 were still unfinished and it was unsafe for trains to be travelling at speeds of up to 200 kilometres (124 miles) per hour.

Karystianou said her fight to shed light on the tragedy was her “main reason to keep on living”.

“I will try to vindicate her memory and those of the other people who were so unjustly lost.”

Source: AFP