Suburban rail controversy
This week, as contractors are due to begin the construction of another 4,825 meters of suburban rail to link the central Athens station, SKA, and Treis Gefyres, the state is about to make its next big mistake with a public works project that, while necessary, will divide the city in two but has been scheduled to go ahead as it is supported by funds from the European Union. Athens’s suburban rail network has been divided into three stages. The first, from Athens International Airport at Spata to Larissis station in Athens, went into operation just before the Olympic Games began last year. The second and third sections involve upgrading the existing network – the second from the SKA station as far as the Aghioi Anargyroi station, and the third from Treis Gefyres to Piraeus. The contract for the second section was awarded in 2002 to J&P Avax and Alstom. Originally due to be completed in time for the Games, it was postponed when priority needed to be given to the first section and due to technical problems that emerged. The design provides for tracks at ground level, overhead (at Palamas Street) and underground (from Aghioi Anargyroi to Vassilissis station), six bridges and an additional two lines. The ground level sections are those that will divide the city in two. Legal recourse Early on, voices were raised in opposition to the plan (which, in fact, contravenes the Athens zoning plan), calling for the lines to be laid underground in both the second and third sections. Dimitris Avramopoulos, then mayor of Athens, lodged a suit against the approval of the environmental study on the section from Treis Gefyres to Piraeus. The Council of State ruled in favor of the suit and canceled the approval of the study. A new competition was announced on July 15, 2003 and a month later a sole bid was submitted by the Aktor-Terna-Siemens consortium, based on the previous study. The contract for the 161-million-euro project was approved by ministerial decree on February 4, 2004. In April of last year, Athens’s current mayor, Dora Bakoyannis, took recourse to the Council of State calling for the cancellation of the ministerial decree, noting that in 2002 the Council had canceled a similar application as no alternative construction solutions, including an underground line, had been proposed. The State Audit Council issued a ruling in July 2004 canceling the competition, but in April 2005 the consortium was once again awarded the project, although the prime minister’s office called for a study of the legal aspects of the case. Demanding an underground track, residents of Menidi, Aghioi Anargyroi and Sepolia submitted a joint appeal to the Council of State against the ministerial decree approving the environmental study for the second section of the line (SKA-Treis Gefyres) and called for a halt to construction. The courts ruled in their favor, work came to a standstill, but, according to official sources, the contractor is about to order a return to work. Meanwhile, designs are not yet ready but will be completed as work progresses, and environmental studies have only been completed for a very small section of the total. Neither of the two main political parties have supported the local residents’ demands for an underground line. When Synaspismos Left Coalition MP Fotis Kouvelis raised the issue in Parliament, Transport Minister Michalis Liapis replied that such an undertaking was «not possible for technical reasons.» Changing the track would be a major undertaking involving a complete alteration of the contract, delays of six to 12 months, as much as triple the cost, as well as the loss of funds from the Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII) and, of course, would raise the ire of the contractors. Mistakes, omissions However, experts and technocrats who have seen the mistakes and omissions in the original design say that despite these problems, there would be two positive effects if the project was altered. First, if it was reviewed and redesigned as a unified whole without the excesses and haste that characterized the existing design, the EU could be persuaded to make funds available from CSFIV. Secondly, atmospheric pollution and noise levels would be reduced, the problem of vibration resolved and traffic flow improved. Although this sounds somewhat utopian, the state should re-examine the decisions that have already been made, especially those made due to the Olympic deadline. However, this would certainly be incompatible with the manner in which the Greek state is accustomed to functioning.