Greece may resume rail passenger transport by the end of March once “absolute” safety is secured following the train network’s suspension as a result of a deadly train crash, its transport minister said on Wednesday.
Passenger and freight services on the route linking Athens and the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, the busiest across a 2,500-km (1,550 mile) rail network, have been disrupted since a train collision on Feb. 28 killed at least 57 people.
“No train will set off again, if we have not secured safety at the maximum possible level”, the minister, George Gerapetritis, told a news conference, apologizing for Greece’s deadliest rail crash on record.
Rail workers have held rolling 24-hour strikes over the crash since Thursday, bringing the network to a halt. They have blamed years of neglect, underinvestment and understaffing which lead to a creaking rail infrastructure and deficient safety systems.
Rail unions and industry sources have pointed to a remote surveillance and signaling system, which controls train traffic and guides drivers, saying it had not been functioning properly for years.
The government has blamed human error but Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has accepted some of the criticism, saying that if such a system worked properly, the accident could have been averted.
Gerapetritis, who became minister following the resignation of Kostas Karamanlis on March 1 over the disaster, said that 70% of that system has been delivered so far and that the rest was expected to be fully operational by the end of the year.
That equipment needs to be installed throughout the network before a European Train Control System (ETCS), the EU-wide benchmark allowing for constant supervision of moving trains and emergency braking, is installed.
“We estimate that soon, signaling and remote surveillance will be fully in place along with a complementary ETCS system, ready and operating so there are no other fatal incidents,” Gerapetritis said.