Tram and light rail are way over budget

They will end up costing about 120 million euros more than expected, are still running close to schedule, but the Athens’s new tram and suburban light rail systems will be in business as of early July. Delays have resulted in some changes. The light rail will run on diesel engines between central Athens and the airport twice an hour in each direction, with an extra four schedules during peak hours (during the Olympics) between Nerantziotissa and Doukissis Plakentias. Transport Minister Michalis Liapis told Kathimerini that the «impossible had been achieved.» «All the organizations involved, including the International Olympic Committee, believed that none of the tramlines would be ready on time.» Both projects have been subjected to cuts. The light rail will not run on electric power, and the tram service will not begin in Syntagma Square but in Neos Cosmos. «By the Olympics, the major part of the electrification project will have been completed and trial runs on the light rail carried out,» Liapis claimed. «However, it was decided not to use both diesel and electric engines as it would have meant transferring passengers from one train to another, meaning further delays since the existing Piraeus-airport line is not all electrified.» According to Liapis, along the section between the Acharnes Rail Center (SKA) to the airport at Spata, two parallel projects were under way until recently – the Attiki Odos and the light rail. «The schedules were not compatible, so the work was carried out separately on the road and the rails, with resulting delays,» he said. Transport Ministry officials say the fact that the light rail and metro have already begun trial runs as far as the airport is an achievement in itself, considering that the original construction deadline for completion of the Attiki Odos was spring 2004. Another reason for delays in the light rail line was the cancellation last March of the contract to construct the Nerantziotissa station due to problems in implementing architect Santiago Calatrava’s design. The cancellation caused and is still causing major delays in completing the station, but also in the rest of the project. In the area around the Doukissis Plakentias station, delays have occurred due to drainage works for rain and underground water at the intersection with the Attiki Odos, due both to the work on the site, where the metro meets the light rail system, and the fact that the contractor failed to construct water catchment areas along the rail line. Construction of the light rail began in February 2002 when the contract (264/02) for infrastructure work was signed. Another contract (9265/02) was signed in May of that year for the above-ground construction, signaling, electrification and stations. The section of track that will serve the needs of the Olympic Games was to be completed in two years and four months. The original cost between SKA and the airport was 304.25 million euros, but it is estimated there will be extra costs, totaling 50 million euros, related to, among other things, linking the metro to the light rail line. Tram operation Liapis maintains that the tram will start running in early July between Syntagma and Kritis Square in Glyfada and from there to the Peace and Friendship Stadium. However, for the duration of the Games, it will be restricted to the section between Neos Cosmos and the old town hall in Glyfada, following a request by the Athens 2004 Organization and the International Olympic Committee, since sporting and cultural events will be held on four of the 15 days of the Games on Vassilissis Olgas Avenue, which is part of the tram route. IOC experts also noted the fact that the Neos Cosmos tram stop is a transfer point with the metro system. In Glyfada, the terminal was moved to facilitate parking in the area. «So the tram will not only be operating, but it will be adapting to the needs of the Games for 20-25 days,» said Liapis. The minister also added, however, that while the original design had made provisions for the effect the tram would have on traffic flow, he could not give any assurances. The original design and costs approved for the tram totaled 346 million euros, but it is already 60 million over budget and includes work completed by last February, chiefly related to the extension as far as Syntagma Square and decisions to alter the original plan. The Transport Ministry’s obligations regarding the Olympics do not stop at the tram and light rail. They also include improvements at airports where private aircraft will be landing with visitors arriving for the Games. Ministry officials claim the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport has 25 places for these aircraft and is constructing a 363-square-meter building to be ready the first week in July. The new installation will be capable of accommodating another 70 aircraft. Light aircraft and helicopters to be used during the Games will also have access to a military airfield at Pahi, Megara, in western Attica, where the runway is being extended. Apron space is also being made available at the Elefsina military air base and the Hellenic Aerospace Industry (EAB)’s installations at Tanagra. Other possibilities are also being explored at civilian airports in other parts of the country, pending finalization of requirements by Athens 2004, the Foreign Ministry and other organizations. Olympic projects that come under the jurisdiction of the Transport Ministry are indeed over budget, but are within reason compared to other sectors related to the Games. For example, at a recent session of Parliament’s Educational Affairs Committee, Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias announced that when he took over the projects under his ministry’s jurisdiction, they were 600 million euros over the original budget. The Culture Ministry’s projects, meanwhile, are estimated to be 500 million over budget.