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How Europe’s affinity to train can bring more railway to Western and Northern Greece

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Very interesting developments are currently taking place in Europe and the decisions that will be taken will have an impact in Greece as well. Following the Swedish initiative we saw 3 years ago against the frequent use of airplanes, last Thursday the Executive Vice President of the European Commission and Climate Commissioner Frans Timmermans brought up the issue of short-haul travel.

“For the sake of the climate, short-haul flights should be replaced by rail services,” he said, officially opening a dialogue in Brussels. “We want to organize it in such a way as to make it more attractive for citizens to travel by train. For distances of less than 600 to 800 kilometers, it should no longer make sense to take the plane, simply because the train journey takes longer “, said the commissioner in an interview published in the German newspapers of the Funke Group.

What can that mean for Greece?

We must first say that this is not a crusade against aviation. It seems that the European Union wants the combined use of means of trasnport and divides them according to distance. After all, in Central and Western Europe, the use of high-speed trains to travel distances of up to 500 – 600 km is already widespread and countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany are connected by hundreds of rail routes daily.

For our country, which is at the tip of the continent and whose geography is not such as to allow the dominance of the train, this trend, which seems to be strengthening in the coming years, can be a cornerstone for the expansion of the railway throughout the territory.

In our country, the use of the plane in the island areas is critical as well as in the connection between Athens-Thessaloniki as it is done in about 40 minutes. But the railway now has its chance, with the blessings of Europe, to reopen in areas where it has ceased operations and go to areas that do not have rail access.

It is a great opportunity to mature the idea to see the train extend from Kalambaka to a) Ioannina and Igoumenitsa to the west and b) to Kozani to the north. These two connections, together with the already planned auction of the new line Thessaloniki-Kavala-Xanthi and the upgrade of the Alexandroupoli-Ormenio section, can contribute to the realization of the visionary implementation plan of the Egnatia Railway.

In addition, the railway union with Albania (from Krystallopigi to Pogradec) is planned (a relevant consultant competition has already been launched) and to strengthen the connections with Northern Macedonia (Eidomeni) and Bulgaria (Promachonas-Ormenio) but also for Turkey, creating , a functioning railway network in the southern Balkans with whatever that may mean.

How can the completion of the Egnatia Railway be planned

Apart from the fact that the European Commission is finding it increasingly difficult to finance highways (especially in Greece with low flows on its axes but which already has a good network), after the completion of major projects at airports (see Fraport Regional Greece), the time has come for the railway.

The blessings of the Commission for the implementation of railway projects throughout Europe with the aim of reducing short-haul flights favor our country, which also has one of the thinnest railway networks in Europe.

For example, neighboring Bulgaria has 4,071 km of network, while our country has only 2,812 km. The big disadvantage for the construction of new lines, especially in the regions of Western Macedonia and Epirus, is the low population density and the lack of large urban centers.

However, this concerns passenger transport, which even in Europe constitutes the large minority of rail transport. The average of passenger rail transport is 11% and all the rest of the transport project concerns freight transport.

So here the country, based on the -real and evolving- narrative of its transformation into an international freight hub between Europe-Asia (even East Africa), could claim future funds and create, as it did with the highways, a complete modern railway network.

The line Kalampaka-Ioannina-Igoumenitsa and Kalampaka-Kozani with the need for another line between Kozani-Veria, will connect by railway and will turn Northern Greece into a large transit center with a combination of ports-roads-rail and will allow the railway and air smooth movement of passengers in the country.

At the same time, the moves that are already being made for the operation of the historic lines of the Peloponnese, namely Corinth-Tripoli-Kalamata and Patras-Pyrgos-Kalamata complement and create again a remarkable railway network that will be able to contribute in the future to the transport balance of Greece.

Study preparation

But what is valuable at this time is the preparation. Projects of this range need maturation time. No one can claim that we can implement all this multitude of projects in 5 or 10 or even 15 years.

However, with a design plan that will put these high-cost projects on hold (only the Kalampaka-Ioannina connection is estimated to exceed 1 billion euros), it will give the opportunity in the future when funds will come out (in a future CEF perhaps) from Brussels, our country to claim their implementation based on the railway policy. It is a fact that the country’s network is completely absent in Epirus, Etoloakarnania, part of Western Macedonia, and in the Peloponnese it operates in a small part.

It seems that the situation favors us. As a country we have upgraded roads, ports, airports. At the same time, it is clear that in Europe the return of the railway is being sought in every way. After 200 years, we are again at the gate of a new era of railway mania in Europe.

If we can seize this opportunity, then in the next twenty years the country will be able to develop a serious, balanced in all Regions railway network that connects with neighboring countries and further with the rest of Europe.

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