Greece will seek additional EU funding for urgent safety upgrades to the rail network, the government said on Monday, as public sector workers planned a widespread walkout to protest the country’s worst train crash that killed 57 people last week.
Labour unions say the rail network has been severely weakened by cost-cutting and under-investment, a casualty of the debilitating debt crisis which afflicted Greece from 2010 to 2018.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has acknowledged decades of neglect could have contributed to the Feb. 28 disaster.
“We cannot, we don’t want and we will not hide – as the prime minister said – behind human error,” government spokesperson Giannis Oikonomou told reporters on Monday.
He said Mitsotakis would seek additional European Union funding to maintain and rapidly upgrade the existing network. Greece was also seeking know-how from EU partners on improving rail safety, he said.
He did not say how much funding the government would seek or give more details.
The European Union will provide Greece technical support to help modernise the railways and improve safety, EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said on Twitter after speaking to Mitsotakis on Monday.
“Rail safety is paramount,” Von der Leyen said. She did not mention additional funding.
A station master on duty at the time of the Feb. 28 crash has been held in custody pending trial.
Anti-government protests erupted across Greece after the train crash, the country’s worst, including a rolling strike by rail workers that has shut down the network. They will be joined by government workers, teachers and students on Wednesday for a major day of protest, unions said.
On Monday, protesters placed empty chairs with red carnations outside the transport ministry, and held placards reading “Our lives matter” and “Murderers.”
Railway workers’ unions and train drivers have extended their strike until at least Wednesday, saying safety systems have been deficient for years.
ADEDY, an umbrella union which represents hundreds of thousands of workers, called the train crash a “murderous crime”, calling for a reversal of privatisation policies and accountability for those responsible for the disaster.
Greece sold its state-owned railway operator under its international bailout programme in 2017 to Italy’s state-owned Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane. Now called Hellenic Train, the company is responsible for passenger and freight, while Greek state-controlled OSE is responsible for rail infrastructure.
Authorities have suspended the busy rail route that connects the capital Athens with the northern city of Thessaloniki pending investigation into the disaster, in which two services on the same track were involved in a head-on collision.
Almost all the victims, many of them university students, were in a fast-speed passenger train which hit a freight train.