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Monday, 2 April, 2001, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
Long wait for Athens' subway
Subway workers, Athens
Workers have a huge task ahead of them
By Brian Barron in Athens

To ancient Athenians, the Underworld was the Kingdom of the Dead.

To modern Athenians it means a bottomless financial hole.

The mammoth project to build a modern underground rail system beneath the city has been dogged by delays and courtroom battles.

It is slowly going ahead, but is more than two years behind schedule.

The capital will not linked by subway to its new international airport, 20 miles away, in time for the 2004 Olympic Games.

In scenes that smack of science fiction, 15,000 workers are toiling round the clock in hellish conditions to complete the next leg of the Attiko subway.

Historical finds

The subway chairman, one of Greece's top engineers, admits they are running late.

Subway platform and train, Athens
The stations that are open are very clean
"Finally we had a delay of almost two years," says Leonidas Kikiras. "But I don't complain, because to complete this project, a difficult project, in a difficult city, with a difficult people, like the Athenians, I think is an important accomplishment."

A major reason for the hold-up is blamed on Athens' classical heritage. Wherever there is digging, a rich haul of artefacts emerges. The artefacts are displayed in stations where the line is up and running.

In the Akropolis underground station, the statues on display are the ultimate in classical cool - one reason why commuters do not complain much about the limited length of the subway.

Businesses hit

For commuters used to coping with the rigours of the London Underground all is sweetness and light in this system. The carriages are spotless and the stations spick and span.

Atefacts on display in Athens subway
Greeks are very proud of their classical heritage
But above ground, subway construction has hit many small businesses. One cafe manager tells me excavation work outside has been going on for 10 years.

"We are down about 50 or 60% in our work," says Evangelos Arapkoules.

Next door to the cafe, subway workers unearth more potentially valuable ruins. It means added delays, but that is hardly surprising when the 21st century stumbles across the secrets of the ancients.

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See also:

27 Mar 01 | Europe
Athens airport raises doubts
16 Feb 01 | Europe
Athens told to speed up
17 Nov 00 | SOL
Athens gets green light
25 Aug 00 | Europe
Greece faces Olympic race
15 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Greece
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