Unprecedented levels of investment are being poured into four separate urban rail networks as the Greek capital prepares to host the 28th Olympiad next month. Artemis Klonos reports

OVER 2 MILLION people are expected to visit Athens for the Olympic Games on August 13 - 29. Events will take place at 36 separate venues across the Attico Basin, posing a huge challenge for the region's transport networks. The government and organising committee have agreed that visitors will only be able to reach the venues by public transport, which will be enforced by imposing controlled access and parking zones.

Athens is investing heavily in its rail networks, which will continue to serve the city for many years. Hellenic Railways' suburban network is being remodelled, with new lines to Korinthos and the Eleftherios Venizelos international airport. The metro is being extended, and the Athens - Piraeus Electric Railway (ISAP) is getting a facelift with new stock and refurbished stations. And this month will see the opening of a two-line light rail system.

All four railways will play a part in handling the Olympic crowds. ISAP will act as the backbone of the network, linking the OAKA stadium at Maroussi and the three SEF venues along the Faliro esplanade. The light rail lines will serve the second main sports complex in Elliniko, the Olympic sailing venues at Agios Kosmas and the Faliro venues. The metro will serve several Olympic venues across the city, and the suburban railway will handle the bulk of movements between the airport and the city.

There is also a long-term agenda. Since 1961 the number of private cars in Athens has increased from 39000 to over 1·4 million, and the proportion of trips made by public transport has fallen from 70% to 35%. Over the next four years the government hopes to develop a further 200 km of fixed-route transport in the Attico Basin, including metro, suburban railway and light rail. The aim is to increase public transport usage to 80% of daily passenger movements, of which rail will account for 70%.

Light rail takes shape

The 26 km Y-shaped light rail network linking the city centre with Neo Faliro, Ellenikos and Glyfada is now expected to be ready by mid-July, according to a recent announcement by Minister of Public Works Giorgos Souflias and Transport Minister Michalis Liapis.

Three legs fan out from the Delta junction at Paleo Faliro. One runs inland to reach an interchange with metro Lines 2 and 3 at Syntagma Square in the city centre. It will continue through Zappeion Gardens to Vassilissis Olgas Avenue, serving the Panathinaiko Stadium. The second branch follows the coast to Elliniko, Agios Kosmas, which will host the Olympic sailing events, and Glyfada. The third branch runs northwest to Faliro, serving several venues including the Peace & Friendship stadium.

Costed at €380m, the network is being funded 50:50 by the government and the European Union. A turnkey construction contract was awarded to a joint venture of Greek civil engineering group Terna and Impreglio of Italy.

By the end of May, tracklaying had been completed on the whole network, and overhead wiring had been installed on 20 km. Elliniko depot and 11 of the 14 substations had also been finished, together with most of the 48 stops.

AnsaldoBreda has delivered 20 out of the 35 Sirio articulated low-floor LRVs, and the rest are expected to arrive by August. Test running with three cars began in mid-March, on a short section of line through the site of the former Athens airport from Elliniko to Agios Kosmas. The first car made its initial run here on November 24 last year.

The network will be run by Tram SA, a subsidiary of metro operator Attiko Metro. Berlin transport authority BVG is acting as operations advisor, to assist with final preparations and staff training. Some tram drivers have been to Berlin for hands-on training, and others are being trained at Elliniko depot.

Operation will be managed from a control centre at Elliniko, where staff will be in constant communication with the drivers. There will be some street running, but for much of the route the LRVs will run on their own reservation at speeds up to 70 km/h.

Trams will have priority at traffic lights, and the pre-emption equipment has been installed as part of a programme to modernise all traffic lights throughout the city, providing 'green wave' controls and cameras to allow phasing to be managed remotely.

Light rail services will be cut back from Syntagma to Neos Kosmos during the period of the Games, because of street closures in the city centre. Tram SA is also looking at turning back the trams 1 km short of Glyfada to reduce the running times, which would leave around 20% of the network unserved.

Light rail extensions

After the Olympics are over, the light rail network is expected to carry around 80000 passengers a day. Studies are underway for a second phase, which would add five routes totalling 57 km. Provisionally costed at €630m, these would be built by 2012 using private-sector funding. Top priority is the creation of a ring line totalling 16 km by 2008 at an anticipated cost of €192m. This will be built in four sections:

1. A 5·6 km line from Syntagma to Ano Patissia, serving 13 stops, at a cost of €67·2m. This will replace an existing trolleybus route and relieve the parallel section of Line 1. The line would serve the University, and interchange with the future metro station at Galatsi.

2. A 6·4 km line from OSE's Larissa station to Panepistimioupoli will serve the municipalities of Zografou, Kaisariani and Vyronas from which the daily traffic into central Athens is estimated at 108000 trips. With 14 stops, the line is expected to cost €76·8m. The line would run via Goudi, serving Paidon Hospital, the athletics centre, the Polytechnioupoli University, and Zografou cemetery.

3. A 4·2 km line from Syntagma to Kaisariani, priced at €50m. Serving Pagkratiou and Ilision, it would branch off the existing line at V Konstantinou. Two alternatives are under consideration for the line into Kaisariani, which would terminate with a junction to the Larisa line at Panepistimioupoli.

4. A 3·2 km extension would continue the Neo Faliro branch into the centre of Piraeus, at a cost of €38m. This would serve the coastal areas of Palataki, Teloneio and Roloi, and would terminate at OSE's Peloponnese station.

Of the other routes which would expand the light rail network to over 100 km by 2012 at a total cost of €1·2bn, the next priority is a 27·6 km east-west line linking Aghia Paraskevi with Peristeri.

ISAP refurbishment

For the past three years, the Athens - Piraeus Electric Railway has been seen as the poor relation of the city's railways. Compared to the metro, Line 1 had older trains and lower speeds, suffering from poor track condition and out of date signalling. Stations were vandalised, and had no access for disabled passengers. Services are less frequent than on Lines 2 and 3, leading to congestion at the Attiki and Omonia interchanges.

But that is all about to change. A comprehensive refurbishment programme for both stations and trains is expected to boost traffic on the 25·6 km line from 400000 to 600000 passengers per day.

Line 1 is expected to handle the largest share of transport during the Games, making renovation or reconstruction of the stations imperative. By early June work had been completed at 12 of the 23 stations, and the remainder were expected to be completed before the end of July. Total cost of the station works is put at €70m, which is being funded by the EU; this accounts for 75% of the expenditure on the ISAP upgrading.

At some stations the renovation process was not simple. Work at Moschato was delayed for three months because of archaeological discoveries, and the same happened at Monastiraki.

The two principal schemes relate to the stations at Irini and Faliro, which will serve the OAKA and SEF venues respectively; these were both completed at the end of May. Faliro station reopened on May 31 after a year-long reconstruction; the 1887-built station has been totally rebuilt to provide access for mobility-impaired passengers.

Perhaps the most critical project is the construction of a new interchange between Line 1 and the suburban network at Nerantziotissa. This has been delayed by serious problems, but the station is on course to enter service a few days before the Games opening ceremony. Impacting on the work has been limited access to the worksite alongside Attica Road, and problematic subsoils which did not allow the station to be built to the designs of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

Other essential changes have been made behind the scenes. Work on the signalling and infrastructure has been undertaken at the same time, including the installation of an optic fibre communications link to connect all the stations with a new control centre.

During the Games, Line 1 will operate around the clock. According to Transport Minister Michalis Liapis, the line will have 40 trains in operation, providing a 50% increase in capacity.

The existing fleet of 23 five-car trains supplied by Siemens and MAN between 1985 and 1995 is being augmented by a build of 20 six-car EMUs coming from a joint venture of Bombardier, Siemens and Hellenic Shipyards. The first of these was delivered in 2000, and 18 had arrived by the end of May; the remaining two should be in service before August.

Another area where ISAP compares badly with the metro is air-conditioning. Following a commitment by the former transport minister Christos Verelis that 50% of the Line 1 fleet would offer a better passenger environment by the summer of 2004, ISAP has rebuilt one of its older trains with air-conditioning, and installed equipment in the underground stations at Omonia and Victoria. It is paradoxical that ISAP is starting to fit air-conditioning in its older trains at the same time as it is taking delivery of new units being built without it!

Metro keeps growing

Construction and expansion of the Athens metro continues undiminished, supervised by Attiko Metro and its operating subsidiary AMEL. The Athens Metro ranks among the largest public works projects in Greece and one of the biggest underway in Europe.

The original plan, on which work began in November 1991, was to build a 19 km network of two lines with 20 stations, later reduced to 17·3 km and 19 stations. Line 3 from Syntagma to Ethniki Amyna and Line 2 from Syntagma to Sepolia were opened in January 2000. Line 2 from Syntagma to Dafni followed in November the same year, and the final 1·4 km of Line 3 from Syntagma to Monastiraki was commissioned in April 2003.

The two lines are currently carrying around 171 million passengers a year, an average of 550000 per day. This compares with 151 million passengers a year on ISAP Line 1. Metro services operate every 3 min in rush hours and at 5 to 10 min intervals at other times. Typical peak-hour loadings are around 1000 passengers per train.

Extensions under construction will effectively double the size of the network by 2007, and planning is also in progress for three further projects which will follow in 2008-10.

June 5 saw the opening of the city's 20th metro station, at Aghios Dimitrios in Ilioupoli, served by a 1·2 km extension of Line 2. Work on this extension began in January 2002, at a budget of €137·9m. Completion of the extension will help relieve congestion at Dafni. With two additional trains in service, daily patronage on the line is expected to increase by 50000.

The new station has a central island platform, as at Ethniki Amyna, but from a design perspective it is the first of a new generation of underground stations. Considerable use has been made of glass and metal, including a glass pyramid in Alexandros Panagoulis Square to provide natural light in the station box. It is also the first station in Athens to have built-in guidance for visually-impaired users.

Line 3 to serve the airport

July 15 is due to see the inauguration of the 5·9 km extension of Line 3 from Ethniki Amyna to Plakentia and the Airport. One intermediate station will initially be provided at Halandri. A new stabling depot and light maintenance workshop have been built at Plakentia to reduce the pressure on Sepolia depot. The new terminus will provide interchange between the metro and OSE's suburban railway, and with buses serving the northeast of the region. There will also be park-and-ride facilities.

Three more intermediate stations are expected to open in 2007, at Holargos, Nomismatokopio and Agia Paraskevi. This is expected to boost ridership on the line from 55000 to over 100000 passengers per day.

Plakentia station has been designed to allow dual-voltage metro trains to run through to the new international airport. Journey time from Eleftherios Venizelos to Syntagma will be just 27min, and with a single change to Line 1 at Monistiraki the journey time to Piraeus will be cut to less than an hour.

For the 20 km from Plakentia to the airport metro services will share tracks with the suburban railway. However, the metro trains will not be able to call at the three intermediate stations, as the narrower vehicle width leaves a 200mm gap between the train and platform.

Suburban services from the airport will serve the OAKA stadium, and provide interchange to ISAP at Nerantziotissa. The airport line is expected to carry four or five trains per hour, of which two will be suburban and three metro.

Through services on the suburban line are also expected to start on July 15, ready for the Olympic Games. However, OSE executives cite problems with completing electro-mechanical works, and with the signalling to ensure safe operation of metro and suburban trains.

On June 6 one of Attiko Metro's new trainsets was hauled from Plakentia to Kantza to start a 14-day trial programme on the suburban line. These tests were conducted between Kantza and Koropi where the wiring has been energised.

But the technical problems are not the only issue. There is also concern over ticket prices which has not been resolved. At present the airport buses charge a premium fare of €2·90, which is expected to be reflected in the suburban fares. However, the metro operates on a zonal tariff at lower rates, and the discrepancy has yet to be resolved.

Behind both these issues is an underlying conflict between OSE and Attiko Metro, which has a clear economic background. OSE is investing €200m in the suburban line, and is facing a problem in the delivery of Desiro EMUs from Hellenic Shipyards which are needed to operate the service. Thus AMEL may be called on to handle more of the initial operation. Although the two companies have signed a convention covering the joint operation, they have not reached a final agreement on how to share the resulting revenue.

AMEL is taking delivery of 21 additional six-car trains from Rotem. The first two arrived in December 2003. Seven sets are equipped for dual-voltage operation on the airport line, able to take power from the overhead at 25 kV 50Hz as well as 750V DC from the metro's third rail. They also have two signalling systems, full air-conditioning, extra baggage racks, and a top speed of 120 km/h.

The remaining trains are not air-conditioned, and are designed for third-rail only operation at a top speed of 80 km/h. Each train has a crush load capacity of around 1000 passengers. Changes from the earlier fleet include electronic passenger information displays and wide inter-car gangways permitting unobstructed movement of passengers between the vehicles. Each train will have a special area for disabled passengers including a wheelchair ramp.

Three lines under construction

Later this year Attiko Metro expects to open the first section of its Line 2 extension from Sepolia to Thivon, which will be completed in 2007. With a major proportion of the region's population residing in municipalities beyond Kifissos, the extension to Peristeri has long been seen as a priority. Indeed, Peristeri is now the fourth most densely-populated municipality in Greece.

Conceptual design for the 2·8 km between Sepolia and Thivon was completed in 1997. It includes three stations, at Aghios Antonios, Peristeri and Thivon. A tunnelling contract was assigned to the Peristeri Metro Consortium in 2000. Civil works are substantially complete, with only 350m left to bore.

Tracklaying is underway on the 1·3 km from Sepolia to Aghios Antonios, which is expected to be commissioned later this year, after the Olympic Games. The line is initially projected to carry 40000 passengers a day. With the opening of Peristeri and Thivon in 2007, daily ridership will rise to 55000.

The Line 2 extension from Aghios Dimitrios to Elliniko will include 2·5 km above ground. There will be elevated stations at Ilioupoli and Argyroupoli, a surface station at Elliniko and one underground at Eastern Airport. This extension is to be ready by 2008.

As well as serving more than 50000 residents along the Vouliagmenis Avenue axis, the line will also serve southern municipalities such as Glyfada and Voula by feeder routes; the metro extension will also connect with the light rail network at Elliniko. The line will serve a new Metropolitan Ecological Park being built on the site of the former airport, including the athletic facilities already under construction.

The €400m cost is being met from the EU Cohesion Fund, including €100m for the purchase of five more trainsets. Tenders for these are expected to be invited in December.

The 4·4 km Line 3 extension from Monastiraki to Egaleo diverges from the route originally proposed, because the station at Keramikos was deleted from the base project in 1997 to avoid any damage to the antiquities in the area. A replacement known as Votanikos will be located around 350m away on the site of a former gasworks. Construction began immediately after archaeological excavations had been completed, and work at Votanikos is at an advanced stage. Aktor Ate-Impregilo is boring the tunnels from 10 different faces, and 2200m has been completed so far. Tenders are to be called for construction of a stabling depot at the intermediate station of Agios Savas, which will be located beneath the capital's inter-city coach terminal. Opening is expected at the end of 2007.

It has now been decided to extend Line 3 by a further 1·5 km beyond Egaleo to Haidari. Attiko Metro has largely completed design work for this section, and hopes to call tenders later this year so that it can also be opened in 2007.

More extensions planned

Attiko Metro has appointed technical consultants for three further extensions to be completed in 2008-10 adding another 20·8 km and 16 stations (Table I). Topographical survey works have been completed for these lines, and geotechnical investigation is in progress. A financial consultant has been nominated to investigate the possibility of attracting private capital for these extensions.

The 7·5 km line along Kifissias Avenue would branch off Line 3 at Panormou, serving six stations including an interchange to ISAP Line 1 at Maroussi. It would serve 82000 residents and 52000 work places within a 500m radius of the stations. With heavy road congestion on Kifissias Avenue, this line is seen as an urgent priority for completion in 2008. The line would run for much of its length above ground, although there would be a 1·2 km tunnel from Paradissos Amaroussiou to Maroussi.

Galatsi will be served by a 6·3 km branch off Line 2 at Panepistimio, which will also have six stations, and will run in tunnel throughout. Serving the densely populated areas of Exarheia, Kypseli and Galatsi, the line is expected to carry 110000 passengers a day when it opens at the end of 2010.

The third project would extend Line 3 beyond Haidari to Piraeus, adding another 7 km and five stations. Serving the western suburbs of Agia Varvara, Korydallos and Nikaia, with 112000 residents and 29000 jobs, it will terminate at the ISAP station. Planned to open by the end of 2010, the line will carry around 100000 passengers/day. The Haidari - Agia Varvara section has been designated top priority and will benefit from some EU funding.

Table I: Athens metro extensions

Under construction Length Stat- Cost Opens Daily km ions km riders

Ethniki Amyna - Plakentia 5·9 5 465 2004 100000

Sepolia - Thivon 3·0 3 170 2004 100000

Monastiraki - Egaleo 4·3 3 650 2007 110000

Aghios Dimitrios - Elliniko 5·5 4 400 2008 90000


Panormou - Maroussi 7·5 6 813 2008 120000

Panepistimio - Galatsi 6·3 6 727 2010 110000

Haidari - Piraeus 7·0 5 700 2010 100000

  • CAPTION: Electrical installation was underway in Eleftheriou Venizelou Street, between Neos Kosmos and Nea Smyrni on May 7
  • CAPTION: Sirio tram TA10004 pauses at Evriali on the coastal section between Elliniko and Glyfada during test running on May 3
  • CAPTION: ABOVE: Officially inaugurated on May 31, ISAP's rebuilt Faliro station will serve three of the main Olympic venues
  • CAPTION: Renovation work in progress at ISAP's Thisio station on April 28
  • CAPTION: The extension of metro Line 2 from Dafni to Aghios Dimitrios was opened on June 5
  • CAPTION: One of AMEL's Rotem-built EMUs waits at Kantza suburban station for a test run on the night of June 6
  • CAPTION: Siemens-built Desiro Classic DMU 660206 reached the new airport station for the first time on a test run on June 4
  • CAPTION: Alstom Transport is responsible for construction, electrification and signalling on the suburban railway; wiring work was in hand at Kantza on June 4