Athens metro grows

The government unveiled plans yesterday to extend the reach of the capital’s popular metro system as serious traffic problems continue to plague Athens. Environment Minister Giorgos Souflias said yesterday that a fourth line will be added to the train network and that existing routes will be extended by 2009. The new line, which is expected to transport some 400,000 commuters per day, will run through the capital’s northern districts. «It will serve many of Athens’s new densely populated areas and important facilities, such as hospitals and the university campus. It will also help ease the passenger traffic at existing metro train stations,» the minister said. It is expected to start from Galatsi, swing into the city center, and end back in Maroussi in a U-shaped formation. The fourth line is expected to be completed in about six years, according to the minister, and will cost just over 2 billion euros. Experts estimate that some 250,000 new cars pour onto Athens’s overburdened roads per year but the conservative government has repeatedly stressed that it aims to encourage many Athenians to part from their cars by improving the city’s transport infrastructure. A recent study by the Athens University of Economics and Business found that one in five Athenians is forced to spend from two to five hours per day behind the wheel getting about their business, while 45 percent of drivers park illegally due to the lack of available spaces. As a means of financing the project, Souflias said that the government is looking into taking back the highly profitable Attiki Odos highway from the joint venture currently managing the road. Attiki Odos’s toll revenues have been higher than expected and the securitization of these earnings – their anticipated collection – could help the government to finance the new metro line. Plans to expand existing routes include extending Line 2, which currently ends at Aghios Dimitrios, to Hellenikon, while Line 3 will continue after the yet-to-be-finished Aegaleo station to end at Haidari.