OPINION

Modernizing the railway system

As of yesterday, traveling between Athens and Thessaloniki by rail takes just 4 hours and 15 minutes, thanks to the two new state-of-the-art trains launched by OSE, the Hellenic Railways Association. These trains, which are scheduled to depart from Greece’s two biggest cities every morning on a daily basis, are naturally expected to be the face of OSE’s modernization. After huge delays, Greece is finally taking steps to upgrade its national railway system, which still falls embarrassingly short of European Union standards. After the process of making all trains on the Athens-Thessaloniki line powered by electricity has been completed in September, traveling time will be further reduced to 3 hours and 30 minutes. Only then can political officials claim to have brought the country into the post-Trikoupis age. The launch next week of the suburban railway line between Athens and Corinth, in the Peloponnese, will further reinforce the image of trains as a reliable means of transport. There is little doubt that a suburban railway network connecting the Greek capital to Corinth and Halkida on the island of Evia, northeast of Athens, will help boost economic growth in these two regions but could also be a catalyst for housing development shifts that could change the face of the Attica basin. Note that Attica currently hosts about half of the country’s population. Transport networks of all kinds are central to a country’s economic growth. There is no developed country that does not have an organized high-quality transport system. Here Greece is seriously lagging. The trains in use on the Peloponnese railway line, to take one example, are ridiculously slow. The state should make systematic efforts to narrow the gap with other European states. Experience shows that an upgrade of services with the introduction of the Intercity trains on the Athens-Thessaloniki line saw a precipitous rise in the number of travelers despite the fact that ticket prices doubled. Government officials should dare to modernize Greece’s railway systems and public demand will most certainly justify the investment.