The European Union agency responsible for rail safety warned the Greek authorities on multiple occasions over the past few years, according to the head of the organisation who spoke to Euronews following an accident last week that killed 57 people.
Josef Doppelbauer, the Executive-Director of the EU Railway Agency said that Greece did not react in time to secure its railway system, despite its warning. Even its latest report in 2022 revealed a gloomy picture.
“During the last few years, we have always seen that Greece has ranked amongst the ‘bad pupils’,” he explained.
“So, with a rather low performance in terms of safety — safety (is) measured in the number of fatal accidents in comparison to the length of the network and the number of passenger kilometres.
“We have also found an issue with the national investigation body because we have never received any report of an investigation.”
Since 2014, the European Commission has given Greece €700 million to modernise the railway system and plans to fund it with another €130 million through the bloc’s Recovery and Resilience Fund, part of its post-pandemic rebuilding plan.
At the same time, Greece was supposed to have the European Train Control System (ETCS) in place since 2020 at the part of the network where the accident occured, but Doppelbauer says this never happened.
“It is certainly problematic that the money has not been spent as planned and it is also problematic that the commissioning of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) has been postponed now to 2023,” the EU railway chief said.
The Greek government has launched an investigation while the 59-year-old station master of Larissa was arrested several hours after the accident and charged with negligent homicide.
Doppelbauer added that the “human error” could very well have been avoided if the automatic system was put in place as initially planned.
“We do not know what the real root cause of the accident has been, but such systems are there to reduce the risk of human error and such systems dramatically reduce the risk of human error,” he said.
“So, if the system was in place, the possibility for human error would have been drastically reduced.”
Doppelbauer, along with other European Commission experts, will visit Greece on Wednesday in order to give the country further support to modernise its railway system and improve safety.