– “Can I leave, Vasilis?”
“Yes, you can leave.”

Through an analysis of the eight words in the conversation in question from the night of 28 February 2023, To Vima (TO BHMA) can reveal that recordings of spoken exchanges between the stationmaster and train drivers in Larissa were tampered with.

The electronic files were illegally removed from the communications recording system of the Hellenic Railway Organization (OSE) just hours after the tragedy in Tempi.

The resulting montage highlights the human error of Larissa’s stationmaster exclusively.

As revealed by the latest documents released by the Hellenic Police Forensic Laboratories and presented by our newspaper, the stationmaster’s affirmation that a train could depart along the “wrong route” did not actually relate to the ill-fated train, as it appeared to do in an edited audio document. The stationmaster was actually telling the driver of a local train traveling on the correct route that they could depart the station!

Which is to say the recording which was presented on March 1 actually consisted of exchanges between the stationmaster and two different trains, which were subsequently spliced together.

The montage, which seems to have been performed immediately after the tragic event, exemplifies the care taken to promote the theory of actual human error and that alone:

a) “splices” together two separate exchanges between the stationmaster and engine drivers

b) removes the Larissa stationmaster’s reference to “Sotiris” which immediately precedes it. This makes it clear he was talking to the driver of a local train, Sotiris Adamou and not the driver of the Intercity, Giorgos Koutsoubas, who was killed in the accident at Tempi.

The key questions

The new documents and eye-witness accounts presented in To Vima (TO BHMA) raise additional questions relating to the illegal removal of material, tampering with data, attempts to downgrade the importance of the “life-saving” ETCS system, etc. They also feed into legitimate questions as to whether all of this was done to obscure aspects of the tragedy and to deflect political responsibility.

To begin with, we need to know: How were the audio files containing the exchanges between the stationmaster and train drivers retrieved and made public (having already been electronically edited) just a few hours after the fatal train crash?

The critical question here is who removed these recordings from the OSE’s password-controlled recording system with such haste? And with the obvious primary intention of focusing public interest on individual railway workers rather than on the absence of electronic safety systems. It is noted that the records show these files as having been officially handed over to the Hellenic Police and judicial authorities on March 3, 2023; no one outside the OSE should have had access to them until then.

A high-ranking OSE executive told the Parliamentary Inquiry that “it was me who called the police a few hours after the accident and went to pick up the recordings with an authorized person. Because, you know, not just anyone can copy the recordings” (which are kept on hard drives at OSE premises in Larissa and Athens).

He added that “the person has to have authorization from the OSE, enter with a code and copy the files onto a USB stick. A record is kept of everyone who enters and which files they copy.”

However, this claim seems to have been refuted in its entirety by new reports made by Hellenic Police officers.

Speaking to To Vima (TO BHMA) 48 hours ago, the officers stressed that “the USB stick with the audio conversations was not handed over to a police officer who visited Larissa station’s recording system with an authorized employee and the high-ranking OSE executive, as Parliament was told. Rather, it was delivered to police headquarters three days later (at 2 p.m. on March 3, 2023) by an OSE employee.”

As a related document makes clear, the employee in question was N.K., who works in the OSE’s Electromechanical Systems and Electrification Maintenance Department.

The executive’s aforementioned—now disproved—statement to Parliament highlights the scope for malpractice. Because it appears that whoever entered the OSE’s recording system without permission then handed the recordings of the exchanges over to the people responsible for handling communication for the accident.

An OSE executive has already told To Vima (TO BHMA) that he himself copied the recorded conversations onto a USB stick in an apparent breach of regulations, which raises a host of new questions.

Tampering with the conversation

The traces left by the electronic data editing undertaken by the unknown recipients of the illegally copied audio material are thus also considered to be of the utmost importance.

The dialog as it was presented at noon on March 1 sought to irrefutably prove that the stationmaster had made a sequence of incorrect orders.

MAN: Can you hear me, Larissa.

STATION MASTER: I can hear you. Number 47, go through the red exit signal to the entrance, the signal for Neoi Poroi.

MAN: Can I leave, Vasilis?

STATION MASTER: Yes, you can leave.

A Forensic Laboratory document reveals that these four phrases were spliced together from two consecutive conversations between the stationmaster and two drivers, not one (audio files ‘CH103e3’ and ‘Ch103e4’).

The first with the driver of the ill-fated train, but the second with a railway employee who was not involved in the incident.

The withdrawal

Another example of pre-meditated tampering is the hasty removal on March 4 of the wrecked carriages of the two trains, after which the scene of the crash was bulldozed.

This can now be attributed to a methodical attempt to remove every physical trace of the crash scene and the wreckage of the trains for communicational reasons. Because they should have been left in place as evidence for the expert investigation that followed. The clearing of the area also entailed the loss of body parts.

Initially, political figures issued statements saying this was done on the orders of the Fire Department or the Hellenic Police, but these have been contradicted by more recent declarations.

Fire Department officials told To Vima (TO BHMA) two days ago that “we stayed at the scene of the tragedy until noon on Friday, March 3, 72 hours after the accident, as required by law. We had nothing to do with the removal and disposal of the railway carriages, which began unbeknownst to us the following day, and with the bulldozing that followed.”

Downplaying the importance of the ECTS

Finally, the recent statements about the “limited value” of the ECTS electronic collision avoidance system by OSE officials, some of whom had previously backed up the theory that the order to remove the carriages came from the Hellenic Police and/or the now refuted account of how the recorded conversations were obtained, are particularly striking.

Speaking last Thursday about the system, which had not been installed due to delays with the 717 contract, they told the media that “if the station master does not mark out the route—as was the case in the Tempi tragedy—the electronic warning systems cannot operate.”

However, this too has now been demonstrated to be untrue by technicians and experts, who point out that “if the telecommand system had been in place, the electronic alarm would most certainly have sounded ahead of a collision between trains.”