“I'm the one who sent the train on its way,” Vito Piccarreta, head of Andria station in the Puglia region in southern Italy, told journalists.
“There was some confusion, the trains were late. But I'm not the only one at fault,” said the traumatized station master, who has worked for the Bari Nord network for 24 years.
The crash happened on Tuesday on a single-track stretch of railway run by station managers who communicate directly with train drivers, a system Italian authorities described as “risky”.
Local prosecutors have opened a culpable manslaughter investigation into the head-on collision, which happened on a single stretch of track between Andria and Corato.
One of the four-carriage trains was supposed to have waited at a station to let the other train through, before heading down the track between the towns of Corato and Andria. The go-ahead to proceed is given by the station managers by telephone.
Two station masters have been suspended amid the investigations, Ansa reported.
Defending her husband, wife Giuseppina said: “We’re victims too. We’re suffering with the families who lost their loved one. It can’t just fall on our shoulders.”
The system on the single-track line by which station managers communicate directly with train drivers was “one of the least sophisticated and most risky”, Graziano Delrio told parliament on Wednesday.
Investigators also said at least one of the trains had been travelling very fast, and it was possible the collision was caused by human error.
“Unfortunately, a system like this means the controls lie with humans,” leaving a window for human error, he said.
According to La Stampa, the line dates to 1965. It said a call for tenders to modernize the security system and lay a second track had been scheduled to open later this month.
Officials said they had recovered the black box from one of the trains which investigators hope will throw light on the collision.
Some of the victims have been identified.
Among the youngest were 15-year-old student Antonio Summo and Francesco Tedone, 19. Patty Carnimeo, a 30-year-old mother of one, also died.
University students, farm workers and office employees were on the trains, as well as grandparents and children.
The bodies of a mother and child were pulled from the wreckage, while a trapped boy, who turned 7 on Wednesday, was found alive, next to his dead grandmother.
One of the drivers was confirmed dead, with rescue workers recovering a hand and a leg from the mangled mess of his cabin.
The two technicians who died were identified as Pasquale Abbasciano and Luciano Caterino.
The trains were operated by private railway company Ferrotramviaria – just one of the 30 or so private companies which run on small lines criss-crossing Italy in areas not covered by national operator Trenitalia.
The last major rail disaster in Italy was in 2009, when a freight train carrying liquid petroleum gas derailed and exploded, killing 29 people at the station in the town of Viareggio.