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Greek rescuers comb through train crash wreckage as hopes fade

A crane removes debris after trains' collision in Tempe, about 376 kilometres (235 miles) north of Athens, near Larissa city, Greece, Thursday, Ma...

A crane removes debris after trains' collision in Tempe, about 376 kilometres (235 miles) north of Athens, near Larissa city, Greece, Thursday, Ma... (AP photo)

Larissa, GREECE, March 2 (Reuters) - Rescuers resumed a search on Thursday for survivors of Greece's deadliest train crash, combing through the buckled and crushed remains of carriages that derailed and then caught fire in a disaster that killed at least 38 people.

The high-speed passenger train with more than 350 people on board crashed head-on with a freight train near the city of Larissa late on Tuesday, and hopes of finding anyone still alive in the wreckage more than 34 hours later appeared slim.

"It will be very difficult to find survivors, due to the temperatures that developed in the carriages," 40-year old rescuer Constantinos Imamidis told Reuters.

"This is the hardest thing, instead of saving lives we have to dig out bodies."

Many of the victims were thought to be university students returning home after a long holiday weekend, and officials said the death toll was expected to rise further. Scores were injured.

As Greece sought to process a tragedy that its prime minister blamed on human error, railway workers nationwide walked off the job on Thursday, saying successive governments had ignored repeated demands to improve safety standards.

The station master of Larissa train station was arrested on Wednesday as authorities probed the circumstances that led to the passenger train, en route to the northern city of Thessaloniki, colliding with another train carrying shipping containers coming in the opposite direction on the same track.

He was expected to appear before a local magistrate on Thursday.

Many of the passengers had to kick through windows to escape the flames. Temperatures in one carriage rose to 1,300 Celsius after it caught fire, authorities said.

To identify some of the victims, relatives had to give DNA samples at a hospital in Larissa.

In a televised address on Wednesday night, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis who had earlier visited the site of the crash, said that evidence pointed to a human error.

Government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou was expected to update the media at around midday on Thursday.

Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis had earlier resigned saying he was taking responsibility for the state's long standing failures to fix a railway system he said "was not fit for the 21st century."

Nikos Tsouridis, a retired train driver trainer, said drivers involved in the crash had died "because there were no safety measures.

"And why were there no safety measures? The station master made a mistake, he acknowledged it, but surely there should be a safety mechanism to fall back on," he said.

Greece sold railway operator TRAINOSE under its international bailout programme in 2017 to Italy's Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, expecting hundreds of millions of euros to be invested in rail infrastructure in the coming years.

The Italian operation has responsibility for passenger and freight, and the Greek state-controlled OSE for infrastructure.