Jul 13, 2007

Greek railroad woes

train collisionYesterday's accident regarding the collision between an urban rail-bus and a freight train in the heart of Athens brought to light - once again - the Greek National Railroad's (OSE) dysfunctional policy and management. In the last 10 months alone there have been 17 (!) railroad accidents, 14 of which were derailments, luckily with no casualties.

In a rush to make an impression and dazzle the public/voters, the Ministry of Transportation, its Railroad Company, OSE and its subsidiary, Proastiakos, added more routes and itineraries this summer, BUT forgot to pencil in safety regulations on their agenda.
Railroad traffic, therefore, is NOT regulated by automatic signaling systems and electronic means, because the Railroad Company hasn't quite gotten around to that part yet. Rail-traffic control is handled the good, old-fashioned, unreliable way: solely by humans, the dispatchers. Hence, the human-error factor OSE officials are blaming.

The fact that yesterday a major railroad calamity was avoided can only be attributed to the rail-bus driver's 3 life-saving acts. As soon as he saw the oncoming freight train he engaged the emergency brakes, opened all doors to relieve the pressure of the oncoming collision and ran back to warn the passengers to move away from the front part of the rail-bus and brace themselves.

OSE and government officials in charge of Greek National Railroad holler "human-error" to the media, putting the blame only on the workers and never assuming responsibility of the many, re-occurring accidents. The Greek railroad has mourned the death of 3 train drivers and 1 paralyzed for life in last few years alone.
What's and who's to blame?

Lack of adequate safety measures and inexcusable hold ups regarding infrastructure maintenance and upgrades. One of the most crucial of these necessary improvements is instalment of automatic warning signals to minimize the human-error factor. Using dispatchers solely as railroad traffic regulators, without the backup assistance of electronic means, does not ensure the safety of passengers and crew.

Overworked railroad work force because of the severe lack of personnel involved with train circulation (engine-drivers, switchmen, and dispatchers) which has resulted in 10-12 hour shifts, for 30 consecutive workdays. We're not talking 9 to 5 shifts, Internet. We're talking crazy, round-the-clock graveyard shifts that make a person's biological clock go cuckoo, which I can attest to since I've lived with a train driver for 20 years.
To top that, OSE hasn't hired any new train drivers for over 15 years. The majority of train drivers are in their early 50s, all near retirement, since the nature of their vocation is considered heavy-duty and are ousted for mandatory pension at 55-57.

So, why doesn't OSE hire new blood?
Ah, well, this is Greece. And there is a system to the system. We don't fill in public service employment gaps without making a big, humongous, pre-electoral deal. How else will the voters know that the party in power cares about its citizens? Huh?

more statistics in Greek
BBC news report