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Greece Transportation
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    The coastal location of many Greek cities and towns, the multitude of islands, and the rugged terrain of the country's interior have traditionally made sea transport the basic means of linking localities within the country and Greek cities with foreign countries. The five largest Greek cities are all major ports: Athens/Piraeus, Thessaloniki, Patras, Heraklion, and Volos. In all, Greece has 123 ports large enough to handle passengers or freight. Besides the traditionally busy ports of Piraeus, Thessaloniki, and Patras, the ports of Igoumenitsa in the northwest, Volos in the east, and Kavala in the northeast have been gaining importance as transfer points for goods destined for Italy, the Middle East, and the Balkan countries (see fig. 10).

    The Greek merchant fleet is among the largest in the world. In 1981 Greek-owned vessels numbered 4,402, totaling 50,909 gross tons. Of that number, 3,932 ships totaling 42,389 gross tons were registered under the Greek flag, and in that year, Greek-owned ships comprised 12 percent of world shipping tonnage. By 1990 all numbers had decreased. At that point, 2,189 vessels, totaling 24,970 gross tons and representing 6 percent of world tonnage, were Greek-owned. In 1994 the Greek merchant fleet was operating 1,407 vessels totaling 46.4 deadweight tons. In 1990 about 10 percent of Greek-owned ship tonnage sailed under foreign registry. Hard-hit by the international shipping slump in the 1980s, the Greek-registered part of the fleet shrank from a high of 3,972 ships in 1980, when Greece had the second-largest merchant marine in the world.

    In the second half of the twentieth century, coastal shipping has declined as a connector of domestic points because of the development of an extensive overland transport network. The great majority of overland transport is by road rather than railroad or air. In the early 1990s, however, the closing of major roadways in the former Yugoslavia, which had provided an overland connection between Greece and Western Europe, enhanced the importance of Ionian ports such as Igoumenitsa, Patras on the northwest shore of the Peloponnesus, and Kalamai at the southern tip of the Peloponnesus.

    In 1990 Greece had 38,312 kilometers of roads, of which 9,100 kilometers were classified as national highways, and 29,212 kilometers as provincial roads. About 21,000 kilometers of the latter category were paved roads, and 116 kilometers were classified as express roads. Changing geopolitical conditions in the Balkans and the Black Sea region have affected Greek plans and policies for expanding the existing road network. Nevertheless, Greece plans to spend about US$370 million on its roads and ports between 1995 and 1999, with about 70 percent of that amount coming from the EU's cohesion funds. Among the projects in that program, one is the Via Egnatia, a 740 kilometer road that would duplicate the path of an ancient Roman causeway and link Igoumenitsa in the west with Alexandroupolis in eastern Thrace, before proceeding to the Turkish border. This road is part of the EU's attempt to reverse the decline of the Greek northeast, which is now one of the least-developed regions in the entire European Union. The second project is a 480 kilometer road running north and south in western Greece to link Igoumenitsa with Patras and Kalamai. Both major highways have projected completion dates early in the 2000s.

    The Greek rail system is under the administration of the Greek Railroads Organization (Organismos Sidirodromon Ellados--OSE), which was established in 1971. In 1991 the total length of the Greek rail network was 2,503 kilometers, of which twenty-six kilometers was a high-speed electrified shuttle line connecting Athens and Piraeus. The rail system in 1991 was not appreciably longer than it was before World War II. Of the existing rails, 1,565 kilometers are 1,435 millimeter gauge, 887 kilometers 1,000millimeter gauge, and fifty-one kilometers 750 millimeter gauge. The Athens-Piraeus shuttle uses the broadcast gauge track; the Athens-Peloponnesus line uses 1,000-millimeter track. Throughout the postwar period, the rail system was neglected in favor of road and air transportation. For that reason, much railroad equipment is obsolete and operation costs are high.

    To remedy the railroads' backwardness, beginning in 1978 the chief construction project of the OSE has been modernization of the main line from Athens through Thessaloniki and on to Idhomeni on the border of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), a corridor that carries more than half of Greece's rail traffic. After domestic funding proved inadequate, in 1990 the EC approved a grant of half the project's total cost, to be matched by funds from Greece's Public Investment Program. At the end of 1993, about 70 percent of the 510 kilometer line from Athens to Thessaloniki had been double-tracked, electrical signals were in operation along the line except in one 134 kilometer segment, and a modern telecommunications system covered the entire axis. In 1990 new diesel locomotives went into operation on this line, cutting transit time from seven hours to six hours, ten minutes. In the planning stage is upgrading of the 220 kilometer Athens-Patras line, which is to be converted to electrified, 1,435 millimeter gauge track with modern signaling, able to handle speeds of 200 kilometers per hour.

    In 1992 the OSE operated 214 diesel locomotives, 106 diesel train-sets, 467 passenger cars, and 10,585 freight cars. Railcars and equipment were supplied by German firms and Hellenic Shipyards of Piraeus.

    In 1993 construction began on a twenty-six-kilometer extension of the Athens-Piraeus line, in order to provide Athens with a three-line urban rail system. Construction of a subway system in Athens was halted in 1983 because of lack of funds, and in 1992 mass transit in the city still depended on electrified rail, trolleys, and buses.

    In 1991 the Greek railroads carried 12.3 million passengers and 3.5 million tons of freight, over an average distance per trip of 164 kilometers. In 1989 the corresponding load of the interurban bus transport system, also operated by OSE, was 164 million passengers carried over an average distance of thirty-two kilometers. Thus, the pattern of mass-transit passenger use divides between longer distance rail use and shorter distance buses.

    In 1989 passenger boats and car ferries on coastal runs transported 11 million passengers. Finally, urban public transport of all forms in 1989 carried an estimated 862.1 million passengers, three-quarters of whom were in the Athens metropolitan area. In the latter, 20 percent of the passenger load is carried by the existing Athens metropolitan rail system, about 10 percent by electrical trolley buses, and the remaining 70 percent by normal buses.

    The use of private passenger cars has increased along with the growth of the urban and highway road networks, providing an ever- greater share of total transport service in the economy. There were 858,845 cars in 1980, but their number had doubled to 1,735,523 in 1990, significantly worsening the air quality and traffic congestion in major urban areas. For several years, restrictions have been in force on passenger car circulation in Athens, and are gradually extending to other cities and tourist areas in the summer. To ease severe air pollution in Athens, plans call for harsher restrictions on numbers of cars and their mechanical and exhaust specifications.

    Air travel within the country is the exclusive domain of the state-owned Olympic Airways. In 1992 Olympic operated four Boeing 747s, eight A300s, seventeen Boeing 737s, nine Boeing 727s, and twenty-one other aircraft. In 1989 some 6.7 million passengers were transported. Olympic offers domestic flights among the principal cities and islands and overseas to most points in Europe and the Middle East, as well as to Japan, Singapore, Thailand, South Africa, and the United States.

    Although the passenger loads of the company have been growing at an average of about 3 percent annually, Olympic Airways has been facing financial difficulties as a result of high costs. A plan to restructure its operation has been negotiated between Greece and the EU, which has undertaken to regulate the national air carriers of member countries.

    Thirty-seven airports are in operation in of which the majority are located in the islands and are used by military as well as civilian flights. The two largest international airports are located at Athens (Hellinikon Airport) and Thessaloniki (Thessaloniki-Macedonia Airport). Other international airports are located at Alexandroupolis, Corfu, Lesbos, Andravida, Rhodes, Cos, and Heraklion. A new international facility is planned at Spata, at the tip of the Attic Peninsula southeast of Athens.

    Greece has no navigable rivers. The six-kilometer Corinth Canal, completed in 1893, connects the gulfs of Corinth and Saronikos, thereby shortening by 325 kilometers the west-east voyage from the Ionian Sea to Piraeus on the Gulf of Saronikos. Maximum draught of ships using the canal is 7.1 meters, maximum width 19.4 meters. Three bridges span the canal: one carrying a rail line, two carrying roads.

    Data as of December 1994

    NOTE: The information regarding Greece on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Greece Transportation information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Greece Transportation should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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