INTRO: The first sections of the long-awaited Athens metro were officially inaugurated on January 28. Artemis Klonos joined the crowds at Syntagma Square

CEREMONIES were held in Athens on January 28 to mark the inauguration of the Greek capital’s metro network. Amongst the participants at the event were the President of the Hellenic Republic, Konstantinos Stefanopoulos, and Prime Minister Konstantinos Simitis, together with Cabinet ministers, officials and huge crowds. Following the opening, Attiko Metro offered free rides for the weekend, but at times the crowds were so large that the stations had to be evacuated.

Under a contract awarded in July 1991, the Olympic Metro consortium is building two underground lines totalling 18 km and serve 20 stations. These are being integrated with the existing 26 km Kifissia - Athens - Piraeus railway, which has been refurbished as Line 1 but remains under separate management. Line 2 will run 11·5 km from Sepolia to Dafni, and Line 3 for 8·5 km from Votanikos to Ethniki Amyna. They interchange at Syntagma, where the control centre is located.

Construction has been a long drawn-out process, with delays resulting both from difficult ground conditions and from the extensive archaeological finds encountered during the excavation work. Both lines were due to be completed in November 1997, but even now only 6·5 km of each route has been opened to traffic. Attiko Metro hopes to have the remainder open by the end of this year, with the extension of Line 3 to be completed for September 2002.

When fully operational the two new lines are intended to handle up to 450000 passengers each day. A fleet of 28 six-car trains is being supplied, each accommodating up to 1030 passengers. Services will operate every 4 min at peak times and every 6 min during the off-peak, with trains running at a maximum speed of 80 km/h.

Olympic Metro is led by Siemens of Germany and Interinfra of France, in which Alstom is the main shareholder. The consortium comprises 21 German, French and Greek companies. The five Greek partners include building contractors AEGEK, Domika Erga and Meton, engineering group ADK, and electrical equipment supplier Siemens AE.

Total cost of the metro is put at 2·3bn euros, of which the turnkey contract accounts for 1·5bn. The European Union has provided approximately 50% of the funding, with another 30% coming from the European Investment Bank and 20% from the Greek government.

The consortium was responsible for design and construction of the entire metro, including trackwork, power supplies, stations, electrical and electronic equipment and rolling stock. OMC is also building the rolling stock stabling and maintenance depot, covering approximately 120000m2.

In recent years Athens has attracted an unenviable reputation for some of the worst road congestion and air pollution in Europe. The metro is expected to have a significant impact on journey times around the city. A trip from Dafni to the city centre is typically around 45 min by car, compared to 9 min using Line 2.

During the ceremonies, the Minister for Public Works confirmed that the government intended to push ahead with the planned metro extensions, ready for the 2004 Olympic Games. He also announced plans to develop a surface light rail network, which will include a link from the metro to the new international airport taking shape at Spata.

CAPTION: Top: President Konstantinos Stefanopolos arrives at Syntagma station for the formal inauguration ceremonies (above)

CAPTION: Below left: The temporary Line 3 terminus at Ethniki Amyna serves the Ministry of Defence

Below: An Alstom-built six-car EMU at Panormou