New Greek transport minister takes over, promises train crash answers

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's newly-appointed transport minister said he was taking over on Thursday with a mandate to investigate the country's deadliest train crash, to modernize an ailing railway system and to restore safety in train travel.

"It is a very heavy responsibility," Giorgos Gerapetritis told reporters during handover at the ministry.

The government has faced harsh criticism for the state of its railway system since an intercity train collided head-on with a cargo train on Tuesday night, killing at least 46 people, many of them students in their 20s, and injuring dozens.

"We are going through days that are truly dark for our country," Gerapetritis said.

The disaster has led to a national outpouring of grief and anger. On Thursday, trains were brought to a halt in a day of strike against what unions said was successive governments' refusal to hear repeated demands to improve safety standards.

Gerapetritis said the government was setting up a committee of experts to investigate "in a transparent way" the reasons of the crash as well as "the abnormalities, the passivity that has existed over time."

The high-speed passenger train collided with another carrying shipping containers, coming in the opposite direction and on the same track, at speeds thought to be up to 160 km (100 miles) per hour.

A station master was arrested as investigators tried to work out why the two trains had been on the same track.

(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)