A greedy business environment and an inept state apparatus are a lethal combination causing disasters in Greece.
The railway tragedy at Tempi was only partly due to a human error. It was mainly the result of a systemic failure of the state that has been hijacked by political parties, guilds, and small and large economic interests.
The train crash reminded all that the Greek state is a mixture of excessive bureaucracy, political partisanship, chaotic and often contradictory laws, ineffective and slow justice, and corruption.
The railway in Greece has been underdeveloped for decades. Shipping tycoons, road manufacturers, bus drivers, and car salesmen had a vested interest in keeping the railway system underdeveloped. A system of interests that succeeded in degrading the railway.
The neglect of the remote signaling systems on the Greek railway network is one of the major causes of the train disaster in Greece which claimed the lives of 57 people.
Although the station master at Larissa seems to have made fatal decisions on the night of the accident, the whole railway system is archaic. Remote surveillance and signaling systems, which control train traffic and guide drivers, had not been functioning properly for years.
A number of efforts to install and modernize those systems failed over the years as contractors pocketed the money with very little -if anything- to show in return.
Cars and highways over trains in Greece
The story of Via Egantia in northern Greece is a good example of how the railway in Greece was neglected. 670 kilometers long in total, the highway which opened in 2009 spans the entire expanse of northern Greece from Kipoi/Alexandroupoli on the Turkish border to the port of Igoumenitsa in the west taking you through the provinces of Thrace, Macedonia and Epirus.
Prior to its construction, experts were pointing out that a railway line transferring passengers and goods should also be constructed which would reduce traffic and pollution. The Greek state rejected the idea preferring instead to reward road developers with big contracts.
The famous Rio-Antirro bridge has a similar story to tell. People are asking why there is no railway bridge to link Peloponnese to Western Greece. Why, while the bridge was being built, wasn’t the rail crossing planned?
The minister responsible for public works at the time Evangelos Kouloumbis acknowledged years later the validity of the question but claimed that a railway bridge would double the cost of the project.
In any case, the Rio-Antirrio bridge took years to construct after its inception as shipping companies, and politicians objected. They feared that the modern bridge would cripple the local economy and make the ferries conducting the one-hour-long sea route obsolete.
Until recently, citizens were wasting time and money and suffering with ferries. Not to mention that the ferry link was interrupted many days a year due to rough seas.
Inept state and local politics in Greece cancel Maliakos link
The Maliakos Gulf, which forms part of the coastline of Greece’s region of Phthiotis, was one of the most dangerous places for drivers on the Athens-Thessaloniki route. Hundreds of people were killed over the decades. In 2004 seven young students lost their lives when their bus overturned on that section of the highway that was more like a country lane.
Lives would have perhaps been saved if the proposed 1993 undersea link would have been in place. The link would also have shortened the Athens-Thessaloniki route by 45 km and 70 km if the connection was through a bridge.
But petty interests won the day and the project that would have saved lives was abandoned. As the mayor of Lamia, Giorgos N. Kotronias, boasted in 2002: “We avoided the isolation of Lamia, through our struggle to frustrate the Maliakos link.”
Lamia is the city in the center of Maliakos which even now profits from the (improved) highway that links Athens to Thessaloniki.
The cancellation of the Maliakos link was also the result of pressures applied to the central government by businesses on the old highway and perhaps by a popular monastery that would lose visits.
Successive governments bowed into special interests that canceled a project that would modernize the road network and save lives.
Greedy business, inept state and the Samina disaster
When MS Express Samina struck rocks in the Bay of Parikia off the coast of Paros island in the central Aegean Sea on 26 September 2000 with the loss of 82 people, the Greek government at the time blamed “human error” (rings a bell?)
Courts ruled that the cause of the accident was crew negligence, for which several members were found criminally liable and sent to prison.
It emerged however shortly afterward that the Greek government was aware of problems associated with the sea-worthiness of Samina.
First of all, it was an aged vessel, over 35 years old, that anywhere else in Europe would have been barred from sailing especially with passengers on board.
Also, a prosecutor that examined the disaster concluded that the responsible shipping minister at the time knew about reports that showed the ship was dangerous. Despite this, the ship was getting sailing permits.
The ship was involved in a maritime incident before and despite previous repairs and modifications, “it did not have the required seaworthiness for sea navigation and, in any case, it was neither seaworthy nor safe,” another prosecutor opined.
Despite the damning evidence neither the political leadership of the shipping ministry (let alone the prime minister at the time) nor the shipping company operating the old vessel faced prosecution.
A case of greedy shipowners and inept government in Greece.
Greedy business cancels road network in Evia
As anyone who has driven on the northbound road from the capital of Evia, Chalkis to the north of the island will testify the road is atrocious. Numerous accidents have occurred, and many people have lost their lives on the road.
It normally takes more than two hours to drive around 100 km to the northern town of Edipsos. During the winter time, landslides and snow often make the road unpassable.
Yet, despite the appeals of locals for the construction of a modern and safe highway, nothing has been done for decades. Locals suspect that other interests have blocked the project: Namely, the ship companies that are running the sea route from mainland Greece to northern Evia.
In December 2021 Greek PM, Kyriakos Mitsotakis outlined a plan to construct a road. “Road access remains the key to the transition of northern Evia to a new development era,” he said.
“We are talking about a 56-kilometer road, we are talking about a new alignment which will significantly reduce the route from northern Evia to Chalkida and in combination with the Chalkida bypass, the Psachni bypass, will completely change the character of the road infrastructure in northern Evia,” he said.
Locals are waiting to see if the project eventually becomes reality or if the interest of greedy business will again win the day.