Greece athens strike
Flowers and candles are placed at the entrance of Athens central train station during a 24-hour nationwide strike over the country's deadliest train disaster last month, Athens, Greece, March 16, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

Athens: Greek unions on Thursday begin a 24-hour walkout with demonstrations planned in major cities to voice outrage over last month’s train disaster, which claimed 57 lives.

The strike called by the country’s leading private and public sector unions will disrupt transport and the civil service.

With air traffic controllers joining the strike, no passenger flights to or from Greece will take off on Thursday, airports said. Ferry services will also be suspended.

The fatal crash occurred shortly before midnight on February 28 when a passenger train crashed head-on into a freight train in central Greece after both were mistakenly left running on the same track.

Most of the passengers were students returning from a holiday weekend.

Several people remain in hospital, including one passenger who is fighting for his life.

The tragedy has exposed decades of safety failings in Greek railways and has put major pressure on the conservative government ahead of national elections.

The stationmaster and three other railway officials have been charged, but public anger has focused on long-running mismanagement of the network and the country has been rocked by a series of sometimes violent mass protests.

Last week, some 65,000 people took part in demonstrations around the country, including around 40,000 in Athens.

Greece’s transport minister resigned after the crash and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has sought to soothe public anger by repeatedly apologising and vowing a transparent probe.

Acting transport minister Giorgos Gerapetritis this week said rail traffic will gradually resume from March 22.

Gerapetritis on Wednesday said a report by a committee of experts investigating the tragedy will be delivered in a month’s time.

Investigators have separately opened a probe into possible railway funds mismanagement over the last 15 years.

Gerapetritis and former transport ministers will appear before a parliament committee on Monday to answer MPs’ questions on the tragedy.

With public anger mounting weeks before elections, Mitsotakis has seen a 7.5-point lead in polls cut to half in the latest surveys.

The PM has come under fire for initially pointing to “human error” for the accident and blaming the stationmaster on duty at the time, who allegedly routed the trains onto the same stretch of track by accident.

But railway unions had long been warning about problems on the underfunded and understaffed train network.

Mitsotakis had been expected to set an April election date. Ballots are now expected in May.