March 1 (UPI) — Greece’s transport minister has resigned and a stationmaster has been arrested in the wake of a deadly train crash Tuesday north of Athens that killed at least 40 people.
In his resignation speech Wednesday, Kostas Karamanlis said the country’s railway system is “not up to 21st century standards.”
“It is a fact that we received the Greek railway system in a state that is not up to 21st century standards,” he said, adding that in the last three and a half years the government had “made every effort to improve this reality.”
He resigned only hours after two trains collided near the city of Larissa.
Wednesday morning, officials arrested but did not name the 59-year-old stationmaster from the train’s last stop in Larissa.
The death toll in the disaster continues to rise, with at least 40 people now confirmed dead, while the coroner’s office says it has received 43 bodies.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the crash was likely cause by human error.
“Everything shows that the drama was, sadly, mainly due to a tragic human error,” Mitsotakis said in a televised address on Wednesday.
Another 85 people were injured when two trains collided late Tuesday, officials said, as search-and-rescue operations continued Wednesday morning for passengers trapped in overturned carriages.
More than 350 people were on board the passenger train, according to the Greek Fire Service.
The crash occurred shortly before midnight near the Tempe Valley, located about 380 miles north of Athens, the Greek Fire Service said.
Hellenic Train, a private Greek railway company, said in a statement that the collision involved one of its commuter trains with about 350 passengers onboard that was traveling from Athens to the coastal city of Thessaloniki, with the other being a freight train.
“Firefighters and Hellenic Train staff rushed to the scene, participating in rescue operations and providing assistance to travelers,” the railway company said.
Hellenic Fire Service spokesman Vassilis Vathrakogiannis said 150 firefighters and 30 ambulances were deployed to the scene, where responders “under very difficult conditions, due to the severity of the collision,” worked to free people from the wreckage.
Four cranes were at the site to aid in the ongoing search-and-rescue effort that has been focused on the first three carriages of the passenger train, which Vathrakogiannis earlier said had overturned and were presenting them with difficulty to access.
Vathrakogiannis had initially announced a death toll of 16, but the number has since been raised multiple times.
As of 9:45 a.m. local time, 66 of the 85 people injured in the crash remained hospitalized, including six who were in intensive care.
Police and the medical examiner have begun the process of identifying the bodies of those who died in the crash.
“In the hospital, there are police officers together with specialist psychologists in order to assist in the process and to support the relatives of the victims in every way,” Varthakogiannis said.
Of the 350 passengers, 194 were transported on five buses to Thessaloniki, nearly 60 of whom were then taken to hospitals as a precaution, Vathrakogiannis said.
The cause of the crash was under investigation, with officers from the Hellenic and Larissa Police Departments and the Criminal Investigation Departments of Athens and Thessaloniki deployed to the scene.
The Hellenic Red Cross announced that until 2 p.m. Wednesday there will be an emergency blood donation drive in the central square of Larissa city to help those injured in the crash.
The U.S. Embassy in Athens issued a statement saying it was “deeply saddened” by the crash.
“Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives or were injured,” the embassy said via Twitter. “We stand w/Greece and thank the efforts of the rescue workers.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said her thoughts were with the people of Greece at this time.
“The whole of Europe is mourning with you,” she said.