NEWS

Olympic compromises

The suburban railway linking the Athens airport with Athens’s metro system, and which is expected to be completed ahead of the 2004 Athens Olympics, will «most likely» use diesel train engines, despite the warning of International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials that, compared to electric trains, they would be slower, carry fewer passengers and would pollute. This emerged from yesterday’s meeting of the interministerial committee monitoring the progress of the Games’s preparations. The committee discussed a multitude of issues relating to projects under construction but focused on the most urgent areas, transport and accommodation. It now appears that the electrification of the suburban railway line is unlikely to be completed on time and that, in the interim, diesel engines will be used. Simultaneously, however, the committee decided that the Athens Metro carriages will be able to use the suburban railway lines, according to government spokesman Telemachos Hytiris. Both the carriages and the engines for the suburban railway will be built at Hellenic Shipyards, in Skaramanga. «The contract will be signed next month,» said Hytiris. In an unrelated development, European Union Regional Policy commissioner Michel Barnier revealed yesterday, in response to a query by a Greek Euro-MP, that the European Commission had withdrawn 180 million euros in funds earmarked for the electrification of the Patras-Athens-Thessaloniki railway line because the project has been delayed. On accommodation, the interministerial committee decided that 11 cruise ships, with a total of 6,500 cabins and anchored on the port of Piraeus, would house 13,400 Olympic officials and related dignitaries. The IOC has said that extra cruise ships would require better road access to the port. However, a new highway connecting to the port has been canceled. Hytiris said that Piraeus port infrastructures will be completed in 2003. Transport Minister Christos Verelis told the committee that 2,500 new buses and 325 new trolleys will circulate in Athens, making the city’s bus fleet «the best in Europe.» Several ministers and most high-ranking officials of Games organizers Athens 2004 will depart in the coming days for Salt Lake City, where the Winter Olympics will begin on February 8. The next scheduled visit of the IOC Coordination Commission will take place in early April.