Greek station master court date delayed as anger boils over rail tragedy

The station master involved in Greece's worst-ever train disaster had his court appearance postponed by a day on Saturday as the country braced for more mass protests over the crash that killed at least 57 people.

Thousands of protesters have demonstrated across the nation since Tuesday's collision between a passenger train and a freight train, with public anger mounting over government failure to manage the rail network.

More demonstrations were expected in several major cities Saturday evening, and a large rally of students and railway employees was set for Sunday in the capital's Syntagma Square, adjacent to parliament.

The emotionally charged first burials of victims of the crash began Saturday.

Relatives of the dead were also expected to gather for a memorial outside a Larissa station on Sunday.

"What happened was not an accident, it was a crime," said Sophia Hatzopoulou, 23, a philosophy student in Thessaloniki.

"We can't watch all this happen and remain indifferent."

The train was carrying many students returning from a holiday weekend and at least nine young people studying at Thessaloniki's Aristotle University were among the dead, while another 26 others were injured.

The station master at Larissa, central Greece, has admitted responsibility for the accident, which saw the two trains run along the same track for several kilometres.

The 59-year-old had been due to appear in court on Saturday where he could face charges of negligent homicide but will now appear on Sunday, his lawyer said.

He risks life in jail if found guilty, but his lawyer has argued that other factors were at play.

"In the case, there are important new elements that need to be examined," his lawyer Stefanos Pantzartsidis said.

Public broadcaster ERT reported the station master had been appointed to the post only 40 days earlier -- and after just three months' training.

The man, whose identity has not been made public, was apparently alone at the station without any supervisor, according to the Kathimerini Daily, despite it being a holiday weekend with high demand and heavy rail traffic.

- Police raid -

Legal sources suggested that investigators were also considering criminal charges against members of the management of train operator Hellenic Train, which took over network operations in 2017.

Police seized audio files and other items during a raid on the Larissa train station in central Greece, where the crash happened, a judicial source told AFP.

And the government has set up a committee to investigate the causes of the accident.

Hundreds of people observed a minute of silence outside the Greek parliament Friday, but riot police and a small group of protesters later clashed in central Athens.

At the rally in Syntagma Square, officers fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, an AFP reporter said.

A similar number demonstrated in Thessaloniki -- Greece's second largest city -- where police had reported clashes on Thursday with demonstrators throwing stones and petrol bombs.

Greece's train services were paralysed on Thursday by striking workers arguing that successive administrations' mismanagement of the network had contributed to the fatal collision.

That strike continued into Friday and was set to last another 48 hours.

- 'Complete evaluation' -

Survivors described scenes of horror and chaos. Some relatives were still desperately awaiting news of missing loved ones.

The clean-up operation continued Saturday with technical crews sifting through scattered debris and removing train carriages from the site.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is seeking re-election this spring, has blamed the disaster on "tragic human error".

But rail unions say safety problems on the Athens-Thessaloniki railway line had been known for years.

For decades, Greece's 2,552-kilometre (1,585-mile) rail network has been plagued by mismanagement, poor maintenance and obsolete equipment.