ATHENS: Thousands of Greek students staged sit-ins and demonstrated in Athens and other cities Friday to demand justice for the victims of the country's worst train tragedy.

In the capital, some 2,000 people gathered in the city centre to protest failures by successive governments to improve rail network safety, despite close calls in past years.

The protesters -- most of them university students of similar ages to the crash victims -- were to head also to the headquarters of the train's operating company Hellenic Train.

“They were young like ourselves,“ Aphrodite, a 20-year-old biology student told AFP during the Athens protest.

Another protester, Maria Psacheli, said her own child was a frequent traveller on the same route to go to university.

“I’m thinking of the victims’ families,“ she said with tears in her eyes.

Similar protests were to be held in Larissa -- near the site of the disaster -- Thessaloniki, Patras and other cities.

A message attributed to a young victim's mother -- 'Text me when you get there' -- is on banners carried by the demonstrators, and has appeared prominently as a protest slogan in past days.

Many protesters carried black flags.

Many unaccounted for

At least 57 people died Tuesday when a passenger train collided with a freight train just before midnight, after running on the same track for several kilometres.

There were over 350 people on board the passenger train and many are still unaccounted for.

Most of the victims were students in their 20s returning from a long weekend.

Students and pupils were staging sit-ins in over two dozen university faculties and schools around the country.

Black sheets were draped at the entrances of several universities.

In Larissa, white roses were thrown at the tracks of the local train station.

The Larissa station master on duty at the time of the disaster has been arrested and charged with negligent homicide.

He has accepted partial responsibility for failing to reroute the trains, and faces a possible life sentence if convicted.

But train unionists note that safety problems on the Athens-Thessaloniki railway line had been known for years.

Safety systems on the line are still not fully automated, five years after the state-owned Greek rail operator Trainose was privatised and sold to Italy's Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane and became Hellenic Train.

“I knew that line was not safe... I was always afraid to take the train,“ Aphrodite said.

A bomb threat made against the company on Friday was found to be a hoax. - AFP