EU agency sounds alarm over primitive state of Greek rail communications

EU agency sounds alarm over primitive state of Greek rail communications

The European Union Agency for Railways (ERA) has sent the various agencies responsible for Greece’s rail network urgent recommendations for improving safety standards and protocols in the wake of the deadly train crash in Tempe, central Greece, last year, which claimed 57 lives.

Addressed to Greece’s Railway Regulatory Authority (RAS), the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE), Italian-owned operator Hellenic Train and the Ministry of Transport, among others, the EU agency’s recommendations pertain chiefly to developing more sophisticated communication protocols between stationmasters and drivers and improving the technology used for these communications. Specifically, it urges the immediate installation of the GSM-R radio communication system across the national railway system.

These recommendations are backed by Greece’s National Aviation and Railway Accident Investigation Organization (EODASAAM), which  launched its probe into the Tempe crash on March 15 – with over a year’s delay. They stem from a meeting of the committee on June 7, whose minutes have been made publicly available. It is noted that the ERA has two members on the EODASAAM committee carrying out the investigation. 

“Even though the thorough investigation of the Tempe accident is still in progress, enough evidence has been collected to justify issuing this emergency recommendation,” ERA and EODASAAM noted.

“The transmission of security-related messages lacks structure (e.g., correct identification of interlocutors and locations), methodology (e.g., reading, correction of errors), and the use of internationally agreed-upon terminology and communication rules,” they said.

Poor communications are believed to have been one of the chief culprits behind last year’s disaster, which saw a passenger train and a freight train routed onto the same line while traveling in opposite directions. They are also seen as being responsible for what was nearly another serious incident in March this year at the Athens station of Acharnes.

Illustrating the primitive state of communications on Greece’s railway system, the ERA and EODASAAM noted the widespread use of open-channel VHF radios.

“Usage of the same radio as a permanent means of security-related communications between the stationmaster and drivers (…) results in important messages being interrupted in the conversation or not being received clearly due to intense radio communication,” they said.

Commenting on these findings, an official with OSE noted that while Greece does have a GSM-R system, it does not work because trains have not been equipped with the necessary radio terminals to pick up communications broadcast via the network of antennas, which has been installed.

“Some trains have them, others don’t,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

EODASAAM is just one of several agencies investigating last year’s crash at Tempe. None of the probes have so far yielded concrete results.

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