Lianokladi Station, a morning in mid-December 2013. The train driver has just turned on the engine of Intercity train 53, which is carrying 120 passengers, and is about to complete the rest of the route from Thessaloniki to Athens. Shortly after 10.30 am, the train passes the station of Asopos, where right afterwards it is expected to make a sharp turn left before the railway bridge of Papadia. Then, the driver suddenly sees two large animals standing on the tracks only a few meters ahead of him and tries in vain to immobilize the train. The train collides with one of the animals, which makes one of the cars derail. As a result, a passenger and the driver himself get slightly injured.
This accident is only one of the hundreds that are affecting the Greek railway system every year. Unfortunately, not all of them are bloodless like this one. Despite sporadic media coverage, particularly when there is a major accident such as the derailment near the Adendro village (Thessaloniki region) in May 2017 where three people were killed and six heavily injured, there has been no comprehensive examination of Greek railway accidents.
This raises many questions, especially considering that research carried out by MIIR on the available European and Greek data shows that railway accidents are extremely frequent in Greece, leading to 137 deaths and 97 people being severely injured between 2010 and 2018. Greece has consistently found itself amongst the most dangerous countries in the European Union when it comes to the railways.
A bloody first
MIIR relied on data from the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA) and the safety reports of the Greek Regulatory Authority for Railways (RAS), which developed a recording and monitoring system for rail events according to the EU Regulation 1077/2012 in order to draw conclusions about the railway network’s safety. This database is used to gather data from the analysis upheld by the Event and Accident Research Committee of the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE) after each railway accident. The information collected is considered fully valid and reliable.
According to the most recent data (2018), Greece ranks first in the EU with regards to the number of deaths from rail accidents in proportion to the kilometers travelled by trains in the country during that year. This is considered an effective safety indicator, as it gives a representative picture of mortality levels that allows for comparisons between countries. Suicides are not included, because they constitute a separate category.
Moreover, Greece takes second place among EU countries when it comes to the number of injuries caused by rail accidents in proportion to the kilometers that trains have travelled in 2018.
In 2018, the number of deaths and injuries has increased to an alarming degree. According to the latest Annual Safety Report by the Regulatory Authority for Railways, this is mainly due to immigrants , who “constitute the main problem of Greek railways” since “they do not know the language, cannot understand the warning signs and thus do not follow the safety rules” and, in their attempt to reach the borders, they “move along railway tracks or find refuge in railway facilities, which leads to many accidents”.
Although the problem is undoubtedly real and needs to be addressed, especially since a large part of the network’s rails remain exposed, the data analysis shows that stating that the immigrant flow towards Greece constitutes the main railway issue is – at least – an overly simplified interpretation of the matter at hand. Greece finds itself consistently in the top positions of risk rates, taking for instance the second place in terms of deaths per train kilometres in 2012 and remaining in the top positions in the following years – when the migration flow was not as high as nowadays.
We raised this issue with the chairwoman of the Regulatory Authority for Railways (RAS) Ioanna Tsiaparikou, who argued that “in 2018 the highest death toll is indeed du