New tram enters the fray in Athens

Forty-four years after a tram last went down the streets of central Athens, a brand-new, air-conditioned version made its appearance once again yesterday, attracting tens of thousands of curious passengers, who took advantage of the free ride. «A new means of transport begins operating today in the service of passengers and will undoubtedly contribute to their comfortable, fast and secure travel across the Athens area,» Transport Minister Michalis Liapis said. «I am certain Athenians will love this eco-friendly, modern and cheap means of transport,» he added. Five decades ago, Transport Minister Constantine Karamanlis, the uncle of both current PM Costas Karamanlis and Liapis himself, had been photographed razing tramway lines to make way for the automobile. The modern version seeks to reclaim some space in Athens’s congested roads. Yesterday, some cars stood in the way and the system does not yet have the ability to claim right of way at intersections. This limited average speed to 16 kilometers per hour, down from the projected 23. According to Tram SA’s chief executive, Angelos Laskaris, this will be the case in the first 15 days, as the system gets into gear. The present system comprises three lines (Syntagma-Neo Faliron, Syntagma-Glyfada and Neo Faliron-Glyfada), serving mostly the seaside suburbs. Extension plans have already been unveiled. A total of 80,000 passengers will use the tram daily. Service will be round the clock. The project cost 380 million euros.