The European Railway Agency (ERA) has been warning successive governments in Greece, as well as the European Commission, since at least 2014 about safety gaps in the Greek railway system, according to ERA head Josef Doppelbauer, speaking to daily Kathimerini in the wake of last week’s deadly collision at Tempe.
Asked to specify the period of time within which it has issued warnings to the Greek and European authorities, he said this was done “since 2014, at least. And we repeat these reports every two years.”
Since the crash, Greece’s worst, reports have proliferated highlighting the shortcomings of the Greek system compared to the rest of Europe.
“Over the years we have reported on various aspects of the issue. We have a legal obligation to produce a report every two years at European level, based on the information we receive from member-states. We have published the rankings based on the statistics on rail mortality in the member-states” railways,” Doppelbauer said.
For years, he stressed, Greece has been ranked among the countries with high mortality rates. “This fact is a reminder each time that there are open issues that needs to be resolved within the Greek system,” he noted.
The ERA chief said that within the framework of the agency’s responsibilities, it audits the Railways Regulatory Authority (RRA), and has identified a number of shortcomings and made a number of observations.
“We have shared these with the Greek authorities, who have responded with an action plan which should be put in place. We have also raised concerns around the issue of the existence of an official body of inquiry into rail accidents,” he added.
The main outstanding issue on the Greek rail network is the implementation of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), which Greece has committed to deliver by the end of 2023.
A key question is whether the accident at Tempe would have been avoided if the modern system had already been in place on the day of the tragedy. Doppelbauer hesitated to directly link the tragedy in Tempe with the long delays in upgrading the network.
“At the moment, the investigation is still ongoing. As long as we do not yet have clear indications as to the roots and additional causes of the accident, anything we say would be speculation,” he told daily kathimerini