ATHENS – Train services in Greece resumed Wednesday for the first time since a deadly rail disaster three weeks ago, and just a day after the embattled conservative prime minister announced an early election for May.
The Feb. 28 head-on collision, the deadliest in the country’s history, killed 57 people and left dozens injured, with nine still hospitalized.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, whose center-right government has been struggling to regain its footing after the crash, said late Tuesday said he would hold the election in May ‒ a month later than initially expected ‒ but didn't give an exact date.
Greece must hold an election by July when the government’s term expires.
Since the crash, the government's lead in opinion polls has roughly halved to as little as three points over its main left-wing rival.
“It was a tragedy that should never have happened. It is inconceivable to think that in Greece in 2023 there could be two trains on the same track, traveling in opposite directions, and that no one realized it,” Mitsotakis said in the interview with private Alpha television where he discussed the election date.
“I believe people, while feeling anger and rage, understand that this accident resulted from the sum of mistakes made over many decades. We now have an obligation now to deal with them drastically ... We feel a heavy responsibility.”
National and suburban train services restarted only along limited sections of the rail network, with additional train and station staff and compulsory speed reduction points at areas where the potential for a collision is considered higher.
The first train of the day was the 4:45 a.m. service from Athens to Inoi, 60 kilometers (37 miles) to the north. The suburban rail service from Athens to its international airport was also restored.
Full services will resume on April 11, including railway transportation between Athens and Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki.
The deadly collision between a passenger train on the Athens-Thessaloniki route and an oncoming freight carrier highlighted long-standing problems with systems to monitor network safety.
At Athens' main train station, housekeeper Eli Tosca said that she was eager to use the trains to get to work 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) north of the capital. "I don’t feel afraid. I feel ready. I was very upset about what happened. I cried a lot but we have to work,” Tosca said. Carrying a heavy backpack, 20-year-old Dax Edgar from Edmonton in Canada said the train restart would help him complete his trip around Europe. “I didn’t even realize the trains were reopening today. I just kind of decided I was going to move on today," Edgar said. "I’ve been in Athens four-five nights. And I’m happy to hear about the restart, that’s for sure. Because the buses are expensive.”