GREECE: There’s a train at the end of the tunnel

Katja Lihtenvalner
6 min readApr 7, 2023

On the last day of February this year, the biggest railway tragedy in the country’s history took place in the black night of eastern Greece, just before midnight. Two trains were hurtling towards each other at speeds of up to 160 km/h. The violent collision killed 57 people, many of them young people, 25 more suffered serious consequences, and the victims must be added to the tragic mourners, who bear mental and psychological trauma of unimaginable proportions.

The victims are thus measured in hundreds.

The first carriages of the trains that collided disappeared in wild flames. The Greek media reported that temperatures reached up to 1300 degrees Celsius. The parents of the deceased explained to journalists in their grief that rescuers were searching for their children among the ashes. For a whole week, many Greeks searched for their loved ones on social networks.

“She was riding on the Athens-Thessaloniki train on the evening of 28 February. We still miss her. If anyone has seen her, please call …” read the posts, accompanied by a photo of a young brown-haired girl in her early twenties. The future was in front of her.

But it could have been different. Many things could have been different.


The train crash revealed the multi-faceted problems of rebuilding a dilapidated railway infrastructure, the failure of safety mechanisms, but also political arrogance. It is a consequence of, and a clear example of, the ineffectiveness of the neoliberal austerity measures that have completely dehumanised the lives of the Greek people.

Clear example of, the ineffectiveness of the neoliberal austerity measures that have completely dehumanised the lives of the Greek people.

The mistake was human. The manager of Larissa station (halfway to Thessaloniki) diverted a train onto the wrong track, where a freight train was already running in the opposite direction.

“You just go on!” we hear the stationmaster on the recording. The fifty-nine year old had only been on the job for one month and made another similar mistake on the same day, which was prevented by other employees on both trains.

But how is it possible that the lives of more than 350 passengers were in the hands of one man? Why did the safety mechanisms not work? What were they anyway? We soon learned that the signalling systems were obsolete and the safety mechanisms were inoperative. The lives of all of us who ever rode on that train were in the hands of a single individual.

The Greek public has been shocked by the obsolescence of their railway infrastructure and the non-functioning signalling. Greece has started to fall behind the development of the last ten years, modern technology is no longer within its reach.

Station managers have been using keys to manually steer trains along some parts of the tracks, known in the jargon as ‘blind spots’, on old-fashioned signs showing green and red railway tracks. Greek railways have several such blind spots. Among others, this was the path of the two trains that collided on that fateful night. Station managers cannot see trains moving in such locations because the electronic control systems are not working.

“Is this the mechanism we have been using in Greece so far?” asked horrified commentators on Greek television. Furthermore, “The lives of passengers in Greece in 2023 are left to the turning of two keys in the hands of one man?”

Train accidents have happened before, but so have warnings, calls and strikes by employees; drivers quit their positions because they did not want to take responsibility. Just four weeks before the tragic event, workers warned the Ministry: “The safety mechanisms are not working. Worse accidents will happen.” They were ignored.

But the train crash has revealed the deeper problems of Greek society and political action from above: in whose hands are the keys really held and who is turning them?


In 2017, the Greek government sold Hellenic Railways, once a state-owned company, to the Italian state-owned railway, Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, for 45 million. The privatisation of the public sector was one of the requirements of the international lenders (the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission). The new owners acted as is often the case in Greece: without supervision, using improvisation, with employees working without training and without the appropriate permits. On the other hand, the railway infrastructure was managed by the state-owned company OSE, which was financially drained by the state and has laid off thousands of workers since the start of the debt crisis.

Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis of the ruling New Democracy resigned immediately after the accident and took “political responsibility”. But officially, the government of the conservative Kyriakos Mitsotakis blamed the “human factor” and washed its hands of the blame.

“We will find those responsible. The judiciary will do its job”, the Greek Prime Minister told the public, indicating that the finger would be pointed at the workers who were the main targets of the tragedy, even if they themselves had lost eleven of their colleagues.

In this, as so many times before, the powerful media, especially the television media, came to the aid of Mitsotakis, lynching the workers and looking for scapegoats. The culprits were quickly found to be even more vulnerable: members of the Roma community who “steal wood, iron and cables from the railway infrastructure”.

The manipulation of public emotions and the creation of a hostile climate at the time of the tragic event was done systematically and deliberately.

And not for the first time. Creating public opinion against the marginalised, the workers, the weak, the poor, the powerless, the strikers is the main rhetoric of the Greek authorities. This is the only way, apart from police violence, that they maintain their myth.

And their ancestors started building it more than a century ago.

Greece is run by a political oligarchy, the family dynasties that have held the country in their grip since the 19th century (Venizelos, Karamanlis, Micotakis, Samaras, Papandreou and so on). They live in elite villas, they drive cars with dark window cars, and their wealth is counted in millions. Both Mitsotakis and Karamanlis were educated in wealthy colleges in America and England. They were brought up in an elite upper-class life. That is all they know. Their male relatives were ministers, powerful mayors or prime ministers of the country.

In addition to rampant corruption, nepotism and the plundering of the country’s resources, they are increasingly characterised by extreme immorality. Tax evasion, wiretapping scandals, paedophile scandals and the brutal smearing of critics are always orchestrated from the top in Greece, and the tentacles lead to the two most influential political parties in the country: the conservative New Democracy and the Pasok Socialists. Both parties have colonised the country with the support of powerful lobbies, media owners and wealthy businessmen. They run it like a private company.

Glorifying historical heroes has paid off handsomely for the elites. The political agenda is irrelevant. Greeks vote for myths.

Thus, in 2010, when the international lenders crossed the threshold of the state, they could not have hoped for a better partner to carry out their neoliberal plunder. Today, Micotakis is exercising his autocratic power in a textbook way. Protests are crushed by violent police rampages and workers and trade unionists are branded “criminals and troublemakers”.


Even if the brief political experiment of the leftist Syriza between 2015 and 2019 promised the only serious alternative, its excursion has proved a failure, plunging the Greeks into further despair and anxiety. After the train crash, Greeks took to the streets. Tens of thousands of people took part in protests in several parts of the country over several days. Confidence in the current government has drastically declined. Mitsotakis has therefore called snap parliamentary elections for 21 May.

But for now there is no serious alternative. In the dark night of last February, Greece hit rock bottom. But it can always go lower.

There is no light at the end of the tunnel. At the end of the tunnel is a train.

Originally published in Slovenian: (POGLED) Kolumna Katje Lihtenvalner o uplenjeni Grčiji: Na koncu tunela je vlak (



Katja Lihtenvalner

Journalist. Greece, Western Balkans #PoliticalExtremism #HateSpeech #FakeNews Head of Research at RusaalkaFilms Monitored #GDtrial I train #MuayThai