Athens’ proposed tram line connecting the coastal suburbs of the capital took a step closer to reality yesterday after the government took out a 140-million-euro (47.7-billion-drachma) loan from the European Investment Bank to part-finance the project. Unveiled last December, the proposal to bring back a mode of transportation last seen in the capital five decades ago is part of the government’s strategy to upgrade the country’s public transport infrastructure over the next five years at an estimated cost of 1.7 trillion drachmas. The State plans to improve the country’s mass transport system as it is a significant indicator of the standard of city life, Deputy National Economy and Finance Minister Christos Pachtas said in a statement yesterday. The Athens tram project is budgeted at 115.5 billion drachmas, with the public investment program expected to provide a portion of the funds. The State has already set aside 10 billion drachmas in credits for works to be carried out this year. The tram line is scheduled to be ready at the end of 2003, seven months before Athens hosts the 2004 Olympic Games. The service has assumed greater importance after the government decided to delay the construction of a rail link between the airport and the capital. Greek construction company Terna and its Italian counterpart Impregilo have been chosen to build the 24-km-long line, the first part of which will link the Zappeion Mansion in central Athens to Palaio Faliro in the southwest, while in the second stage the line will be extended to Glyfada in the south. Pachtas also announced additional funding for the Athens metro with the 80-billion-drachma injection boosting the underground rail company’s total budget to 108.6 billion drachmas. The new funds, recently approved by the deputy minister, will cover the costs of the metro’s expansion to Peristeri, ongoing projects, landscaping works and expropriation of land. In addition to the tram loan, Pachtas also took out a loan of 10 billion drachmas (29 million euros) from the European Investment Bank for the construction of a detour bypassing Patras in central Greece. The 18-km-long route is estimated to cost 83.7 billiion drachmas, with part of the funds expected to come from European Union structural funds.