Public funds, private boss for railway

In two years’ time, Athens will have a 51-kilometer (32-mile) suburban railway with 18 stations linking the port of Piraeus to the center of Athens and the Athens International Airport at Spata, Transport and Communications Minister Christos Verelis said yesterday. By the end of the decade, the suburban railway will have expanded well beyond Attica to reach the towns of Kiato, Thebes and Halkida, and the network will total 220 kilometers. Additional expansion, to the ports of Rafina and Lavrion, east and southeast of Athens, respectively, is also planned. The first stage of the suburban railway will cost 854 million euros. This will be paid from the state’s public investment program and the European Union’s Third Community Support Framework. Even though the funds will be public, the railway will be operated by a private entity. In fact, the state is looking for an operator that will agree to run the railway for the first two years (2004-2006) before a tender for a permanent operator is held. No explanation was given for this rather unusual arrangement, nor any details provided of any private funds going into the project. The project will be built by ERGOSE, the construction subsidiary of Hellenic Railways (OSE). When the first phase is complete, the trains will cover the distance from the Athens central railway station to the airport in half an hour. The network will also have four transfer points with the metro system. In four years’ time, suburban trains will run the Athens-Kiato route in 50 minutes, with the trains running at a maximum 160 kilometers per hour. The Athens suburban railway is the most ambitious, but not the only, railway project underway. A modernization program, already under way, will allow trains to move faster along existing routes. The Athens-Thessaloniki run, which now takes five and a half hours, will be cut to three hours and fifty minutes by 2008. Similarly, the Athens-Patras route will take only two hours, from the three hours and thirty-five minutes currently.

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