Spatial and railway development in the Athens Region

The present crisis cuts a deep gash in the country’s history, but also offers new opportunities. However, to achieve a sustainable path of development, investments in the national infrastructure are especially important. A prime example is improving the railway connections in the triangle of Thessaloniki, Athens and Patras.

TRIANGLE PATHE (Patras, Athens, Thessaloniki)
Direct, fast and reliable railway connections are strategic projects of the highest priority. It is not only vital for the cities involved, it carries both national and European importance. The Triangle is part of the core network of the trans-European network and will form a city network that connects the three most important Greek metropolitan regions of Thessaloniki, Athens and Patras. More than half of the 11 million inhabitants of Greece are living in its catchment area.

Ultimately, the Triangle connections will contribute to closing the East/West divide in the high performance transport infrastructure that has existed in Greece for too long now and will also connect Patras, as Greece’s western gate, with its hinterland. Travel time between Patras and Athens will be reduced to well under two hours and will offer attractive opportunities for commuter traffic in the catchment area of both metropolitan regions. In addition, travel times between Athens and Thessaloniki could be reduced from nearly six hours to less than four hours. Both improvements are suitable and sustainable alternatives to travelling by car, bus or plane.

Athens’ central railway station Stathmos Larrisis is the main node of this railway network. It is also the southern gateway to the European Orient/east-Med Corridor, i.e. Hamburg–Athens. But, the station should be upgraded to more than an eight-track railway infrastructure with an electrified connection to SKA (the northern gateway of Athens) and the passenger harbour of Piraeus. The link from SKA via Stathmos Larissis to Piraeus forms a corridor that has strategic importance for the future development of Athens.

There are several reasons why the upgrade of the Athens’ central station has been put on hold. Along the corridor, there are existing brownfield sites that have potential as opportunities for the transformation and renewal of important areas of the City of Athens. Thus, the urban fabric in the catchment area of Stathmos Larissis needs to be improved. Furthermore, current accessibility to the main station area is insufficient for a railway network node of national and European importance.

The planning Chairs of ETH Zurich, the Technical University of Athens and the University of Patras have therefore started an initiative to gather new ideas for possible solutions, so to stimulate the integrated development of both city and railway in Athens in the longer perspective. As shown by some examples from other European metropolitan areas in Germany, Spain, Austria and Switzerland integrated railway and urban development can serve as an engine for strategic investments, often realized in public-private partnerships. Hence, the international symposium Rail&City (held in April 2015) stimulated public debate on the challenging situation in Athens. Participants from Berlin, Madrid, Vienna and Zurich who are involved in similar projects shared the challenges, possibilities and results of Rail&City projects and discussed their experiences with the responsible actors from Athens. This exchange provided a solid basis for a better understanding of the integrated planning approach, which could make a breakthrough for any innovative solutions accepted by the inhabitants, the politicians and the various institutions and actors that will have to be involved.

Durring the joint seminar week, held in the period between 15th and 20th June, 55 students from ETH Zurich, National Technical University of Athens and University of Patras had the possibility to research new ideas for the further development of the railway corridor in Athens. During the workshop, they also provided innovative solutions for integrated transport and urban development in Athens. Professors and experts accompanied and supported the student working groups.


Preparatory meeting
17th – 19th September 2014, Zürich

Preparatory meeting gathered the spatial planning and transport experts from both academic (i.e. ETH Zurich, NTU Athens, University of Patras) and non-academic sector (i.e. Planning and Building Department of the City of Athens, OSE). Besides the inputs on current conditions and future tendencies of spatial development in Athens, presented by Greek colleagues, the particular value of the meeting was in its collaborative nature – close and open discussion on both threats and challenges for integrated spatial and railway development. Such a debate elucidated the major problems of simultaneous development of urban railway network and its correspondence with the sustainable city development. Significant remarks to the topic were made by local (Swiss) experts, thus opening up new horizons for possible spatial solutions. Based on this meeting, the main content outline for the international symposium Rail&City Development was formulated.

International symposium
14th – 17th April 2015, Athens

The symposium aims at stimulating the public debate on the challenging situation in Athens. This is secured by involvement of the key stakeholders from both European and Greek context. More precisely, spatial and railway experts from Germany, Spain, Austria and Switzerland provide knowledge and skills on how to ensure integrated spatial and transport development in the metropolitan region of Berlin, Madrid, Vienna and Zurich. On the other side, participation of both Greek experts and decision-makers affects the strengthening not only of vertical collaboration (among Ministry of Spatial Development and City of Athens and City of Piraeus), but also of interdisciplinary coordination. Finally, academic members and students from three universities actually form the critical mass for shaping transparent and fruitful public discussion. Hence, the exchange of experiences provides a solid base for a better understanding of the integrated planning approach, as a breakthrough for any innovative spatial solutions.

Joint seminar week
15th – 20th June, Athens

Having in mind that Greece faces major challenges (in political, social and economical terms), there is a clear need for new ideas, methods and instruments in order to achieve sustainable development. This is particularly true for the domain of spatial sustainability. Based on the recommendations and guidelines for integrated spatial and transport development derived from the Rail&City symposium, as well as the constant support by the professors and other experts, during joint seminar week students from three universities had the possibility to research new ideas for sustainable development of the railway corridor in Athens, with particular attention to the betterment of Stathmos Larissis. Final outcome of such an international cooperation is the promotion of the young scientists in the domain of spatial development, urban planning and architecture, as well as strengthening of their role within the European research society.