“We are not going to hide behind human error. We will look into the issue until the end. The suffering must find purification” assured the Minister of State and Minister of Infrastructure and Transport, George Gerapetritisannouncing the restart of the railway in terms of absolute safety and as a first measure the presence of two station masters at all stations.

During a press conference regarding the tragic accident in Tempi, Mr. Gerapetritis expressed his pain and heartbreak, as he typically said, for the “unprecedented national tragedy that marked us all” and added: “The responsibility that rests with the government has undertaken”. “I must again apologize on behalf of the government and myself personally to the families of the victims, to all Greek citizens for not being able to prevent this incredible accident. The apology is completely sincere, not pretentious and does not attempt to deflect any real responsibility.”

Mr. Gerapetritis cited the “clear statement of the prime minister, who gave the framework. We are not going to hide behind human error. We will investigate the issue until the end.”

He made it clear from the outset that there is no government intervention in the judicial investigation on the one hand, or in the administrative investigation that will be conducted by a group of technocrats on the other, he stated that this is not the time for confrontation while he noted that he himself will deal exclusively with everything that has to do with the issue of the accident and the future of railways.

Attribution of responsibility, as he said, is the responsibility of Justice. An independent committee has undertaken the administrative investigation that will identify the errors and omissions that resulted in the tragic accident. He said that there will be complete transparency at the parliamentary level as well and that it will cause a debate in the Parliament to discuss the issues of pathogenicity in the railways and to find a common ground.

Railroad restart

For the restart of the railway, the minister estimated that we will have a reopening by the end of the month and only if the absolute safety conditions are met will the operation start again until the technological upgrade is completed. “Our wish is for the railway to restart as soon as possible, but to have secured the necessary conditions first. When I say necessary time, we will obviously see it with all agencies. Our desire is as soon as possible, possibly by the end of the month”, added Mr Gerapetritis.

“We will significantly upgrade the level of security” and it will include mandatorily two station masters at each station, the minister stressed. On the other hand, there can be a reduction in the transport work, as only in this way can a sufficient number of stationmasters be ensured. In fact, as he said, there has been an agreement with Hellenic Train in the basic framework regarding the restart. He assured that all actions will be taken, in the context of the changes, always in the first phase, there will be a better coordination in the context of today’s technological possibilities.

He emphasized that everything will be done to speed up the completion of the upgrade contract. For this, as he announced, the Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, contacted the CEO of the parent company Alstom (France). He gave a clear order to complete the project as soon as possible. A request in which the French company showed full understanding.

He referred to the railway workers, praising their work, stating that it is essential that they are also at the forefront of this effort to restore public confidence in the railway.

He also announced that the prime minister contacted the German chancellor and it was agreed that a team of German experts would come to Greece and that, due to their great experience, they would submit proposals for the upgrading of the railway.

He also announced that there will be a replacement of the OSE and ERGOSE administration in the coming days as the resignations have been placed at the prime minister’s disposal. We will proceed with the new administrations to speedily resume the routes, he said.

Larissa – Thessaloniki autopsy

Speaking about the accident and the autopsy he did in the previous days in Larissa, the minister said “I was at the scene of the tragedy and had the misfortune to have a personal opinion on the conditions under which the administration system operates in Thessaloniki and Larissa” . “The Larissa local remote control center was operating normally on the fateful night,” said the Minister of State, while pointing out that “there could have been automatic route planning that would have prevented the accident. It was never out of order on that fateful night. Indeed, this particular center had great difficulties over time.” At this point, the minister cited two major fires that had put it out of business. But, he concluded, “it was fully operational by November 2022.” Also “the manual key change was not done at second level and at third level there should have been monitoring on the board for a distance of 5.5 km. If there had been monitoring on the board after the departure of the train it would have been found that the train had moved to wrong line” he noted.

“There were mistakes in human management, but this does not negate the fact that, regardless of human error, if we had a complete remote control system in the country, the accident would not have happened” he emphasized and in this way raised the issue of completing the projects that linked to the operation of the railway.

At the same time, Mr. Gerapetritis thanked everyone who was involved in dealing with the consequences of the tragedy from the first moment, (health workers Fire Department, EKAV, Hellenic Police, Disaster Victim Identification Team, Mental Health Service of the Ministry).

Speaking about the reactions and feelings of Greek society, he characteristically said: “I am in shock, I understand the collective pain that this particular accident has caused in society, for its unfair nature, for the thought that in such a time when technology is at its peak, in the 4th Industrial Revolution, unfortunately we are witnessing situations that are not consistent with the current era. The unjust destruction of people will always accompany us. I understand the anger and the reactions, they are very reasonable.”

Answering the question of the Athenian-Macedonian News Agency, regarding the “why” of the accident, Mr. Gerapetritis noted: “It is something that goes beyond my own role. The “why” will be assessed first and foremost by criminal justice, which has been undertaken at a very high level. On the other hand, there will be an administrative investigation that will provide the answers.”

Mr. Gerapetritis also stated that in the immediate future the government will announce a framework for the families of the victims as a whole for all issues and not only the issues of compensation and that it will also monitor Hellenic Train’s commitments in relation to compensation.

Staff shortages – training

Regarding the training program, he said that it is strict, “it takes up 6.5 months of theoretical and practical training, with 6 days a week compulsory participation of all candidates, 7 hours a day and includes practice in the field. The training also includes a series of medical tests and psychometric tests for the evaluation of the staff”. However, the overall framework will be evaluated for as complete an education as possible.

With regard to staff and shortages, the Minister of State said that more specialized staff are always needed, an effort was made to strengthen them, in the last 15 years there has been a significant reduction due to memoranda as well as a massive wave of retirements. Referring to the efforts to strengthen the staff, he said: about 200 people were hired with a service card, 69 locksmiths, 73 station masters, 60 technicians, while for the first time the hiring of permanent workers was launched. In 2021, a competition was held for the recruitment of 117 people, of which 36 are station masters. And in 2022 hiring 100 more permanent employees. According to him, during SYRIZA, 35 positions had been announced and 24 people had been hired.

Railroad degradation

The minister admitted the age-old obsolescence and degradation of the railway. “The railway was subject to chronic degradation that had to do with both the maintenance and the upgrading of the electronic infrastructure. For 50 years it operated with manual safety systems. In 2014, the upgrade contract was signed for the universal operation of remote control. The contract started at the end of 2014 was partially developed by 2017, about 32% of the contract deliverable was delivered, but with significant errors, only 18% was operational. In 2017, the implementation of the contract was stopped as very serious errors occurred, the competent financial control authority identified the errors and the implementation of the contract was suspended. From 2017 to 2019 there is no delivery. In 2019, in November, the management of ERGOSE, which is the organization for the implementation of the project, changes and from November 2019 there is an attempt to withdraw the contract” he said and added:

“There are serious problems of a bureaucratic nature, in the end we have the signing of the supplementary contract in 2021 with the result that this contract will be restarted, approximately 70% has been delivered. By the end of the year, we will also have the delivery of the rest of the part that has to do with the light signaling, with the paging and with the necessary systems of interaction of the train with the coordination center, i.e. speed control systems and automatic brakes, automatic braking on trains” .

Responding to a related question, he said that the critical remote control and signaling contract covers 52 stations and 3 remote control centers, and in 2017 when the project was stopped, 17 stations and no remote control centers had been delivered. Then there were additional projects that overturned the project on half of them because one system didn’t see the other. In 2018 it started again with the additional contract hurdles. “Since 2021 and the signing of the supplementary contract, from 18% we have reached 70%, now 32 stations and one center have been delivered, with completion by the end of the year for all centers and stations and installation of the ETCS system” .

He mentioned that the budget for the Greek railway is increasing. As he noted, before the accident in Tempe, an amount of 185 million was registered in the Greek program of the Recovery Fund for the upgrading of the structures.

He announced that the establishment of the National Organization for the Investigation of Air and Railway Accidents will be launched in the immediate future.

Finally, as announced by Mr. Gerapetritis, in the near future the government will bring to the Parliament for a vote a stricter framework regarding sabotage, theft and destruction in the network. “It is something that has been happening for many years, with thefts mainly of copper and other materials. In many cases there is a lack of support and itineraries are interrupted as well as security issues. There will be a tightening of the framework.”