The European Council of Transport Ministers, which will be held in Luxembourg next Thursday, is especially crucial for Greece. It will debate financing for extending Greece’s rail network, the first significant extension in over a century, and for upgrading several ports. The proposals have already received the blessing of the European Commission, which wants to promote Trans-European Networks – in roads, railways, sea transport and communications – over the early part of the 21st century. The railway project that Greece has submitted for funding is called the Western Railway Axis and comprises three major segments: a railway linking the southwestern port of Kalamata to the northwestern town of Ioannina, a railway from the town of Kozani, in western Macedonia to the town of Kalambaka, in Thessaly, and an extension from Kalambaka to Ioannina and to the western port of Igoumenitsa. West central and northwestern Greece have no rail connections. A short railway built in the 1880s, from Mesolongi to Agrinion, has been abandoned. The first segment, Ioannina-Kalamata, would upgrade the existing connection between Kalamata and the city of Patras, would pass over the Rio-Antirio bridge – which will be completed in 2004 – and then through Mesolongi, Agrinion, Arta and Ioannina. All three networks will cover an area of 1 million people which, so far, could rely only on the car as a mode of transport. The Western Railway Axis also provides rail connection to four important ports – Igoumenitsa, Platiyali, Patras and Kalamata. Also, Greece’s rail network will be extended throughout its territory for the first time. Port upgrade The government plans to use this connection to significantly upgrade the port of Platiyali, which is near Mesolongi. The port is near the route followed by many ships crossing the Mediterranean towards Black Sea ports and could serve as a port of entry for goods destined for Balkan and eastern European countries. It can accommodate very large ships and the government’s ambitious plan is to expand the port and make it competitive to the port of Trieste, at the end of the Adriatic Sea. Construction on the new railway axis is expected to start in 2006 and finish in 2014. the total cost is estimated at 2.7 billion euros. The railway axis will boost development in the regions, some of which currently rank among the EU’s poorest. It is a project that will upgrade Greece’s heretofore isolated position in European transport. Benefits A feasibility and socioeconomic study on the project have already been completed and show that the project is compatible with the EU’s main aim: to emphasize intermodality, that is, interconnections between one mode of transport and another. It also improves transport connections in the Balkans and makes connections with Italy and central Europe much easier. Finally, the development of one more highly advanced railway network will upgrade the connected ports and speed up transport throughout the Mediterranean. The funding will also help maritime connections between the Adriatic Sea, Greece and Cyprus, Greek officials said.