JANUARY 28 marked the completion of a further section of Hellenic Railways’ ongoing upgrading of its Athens - Thessaloniki main line, with the opening of a 38·8 km double-track cut-off between Evangelismos and Leptokaria, replacing the attractive but sinuous route alongside the Pineios River through the Tempi gorge.

Construction of the cut-off was split into three sections: Evangelismos - Rapsani, 12·5 km (the Tempi section); Rapsani - Nei Pori, 15 km; and Nei Pori - Leptokaria, 11·3 km (the Platamonas section).

Work on the Tempi section was contracted to OSE’s construction subsidiary Ergose. The 12·5 km includes four tunnels totalling 7·5 km, another 2·3 km of cut-and-cover, a 240m long bridge over the Pineios River and a 143m semi-viaduct where the line is cantilevered out from the side of the gorge. The biggest single element is the 4034m long Tempi tunnel beneath the Oympus mountains.

The Tempi section is the first main line in Greece to use slab track, which has been laid on a total of 6·9 km, mainly in tunnel. The whole line has been laid out for 250 km/h, with the tracks spaced 4500mm apart and a minimum curve radius of 4000m.

Test running on the cut-off began on September 1 2003, and Ergose handed over the southbound track for single-track revenue operation on November 28. Last train to use the old route through the Tempi valley was IC51, and Thessaloniki - Larissa local train 1509 was the first to use the new tunnel. Work continued on the completion and commissioning of the northbound track, which was finally opened on January 28.

Although speeds are currently limited to 160 km/h, journey times between Leptokaria and Evangelismos have already been cut by 10min.

  • Further north, a 659m bridge over the Axios river was commissioned on August 18 2003. This completed a 6 km double-track cut-off between Adendro and Sindos, on the approach to Thessaloniki. This is designed for 200 km/h operation, although at present trains are still limited to 160 km/h. Nevertheless, the new line has cut around 5min from Athens - Thessaloniki journey times. At first only one of the two tracks was available for use, but double-track working began a week later.

    CAPTION: LEFT: Slab track has been laid through the 4034m long Tempi tunnel on OSE’s Evangelismos - Leptokaria cut-off

    RIGHT: An MLW diesel loco threads its way through the Tempi valley with a Thessalonkiki - Athens freight train in August 2003, shortly before the closure of the old route

    Photos: Artemis Klonos

    CAPTION: MLW built loco A504 crosses the Axios bridge with a southbound freight train one week after its inauguration

    Photo: Nikos Klonos