Greek trains back on track after train crash

Intercity rail travel resumed in Greece on Wednesday for the first time since the country’s worst rail disaster killed 57 people more than three weeks ago, operator Hellenic Train said.

According to the company, train traffic from the seaport of Piraeus to the capital’s international airport was resumed, as well as communication between Athens and Chalkis on the island of Evia and two other local services in the Peloponnese region.

But the line that crashed on February 28 — the country’s busiest, stretching 600 kilometers (370 miles) from Athens to the north’s second-largest city of Thessaloniki — will not open until April 1, Acting Transport Minister Georgios Gerapetritis said.

The disaster sparked weeks of angry and sometimes violent protests, ratcheting up pressure on the conservative government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis ahead of elections due in May.

Most of the victims were university students returning from a long weekend.

The Greek transport minister resigned after the crash.

The stationmaster on duty at the time of the accident and three other railroad workers have been charged and face life in prison.

The Hellenic Railways Supervisory Authority found major security issues throughout the network, including inadequate basic training for critical personnel.

Panagiotis Terezakis, the new CEO of state-run Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE), which owns the network, said on Wednesday that the company will “do everything we can to win back the trust of our passengers.”

“We must move forward after the tragic event that shocked us all,” he told reporters.

On Tuesday, train drivers called for safety measures, including better monitoring of level crossings, improved tunnel lighting, bridge inspection data, and removing debris and overgrown vegetation from the tracks.

Rail unions have long warned that the network is underfunded, understaffed and accident-prone after a decade of cost cutting.

The drivers’ union said on Tuesday that the repeated warnings are “downplayed or not taken seriously.”

At the height of the demonstrations, more than 65,000 people took to the streets across the country demanding accountability and calling for Mitsotakis’ resignation, with some accusing the government of being “murderers”.

Many Greeks have been dismayed by the decline in public services amid large-scale privatizations, including of passenger and freight trains, to pay off debts stemming from the country’s 2009-2018 debt crisis.