The Athens – Thessaloniki Railway Line (up to 1999)

The construction of the “central” railway axis of Greece, connecting the capital with the borders, which were then at the village of Papapouli, began in the “turn” of the previous century. The construction of the 400 km long line was assigned by Ch. Trikoupis to an English investor group in 1889. The company abandoned the project in 1893, although it had already received 21 million francs. A new assignment in 1900, by the government of Theotokis, was given to the Railway Construction Syndicate in the East, which was supported by the French company Batignolles, constructor the Eiffel Tower. The work was completed in 1909 and the Hellenic Railways (HS) management company named the network, based on its destination, Piraeus – Demelli – Border Railways (Demerli standing for Paleoparsalos), while people called it Larissa Railways.

The network was constructed with a track of normal width to connect with the European ones that then ended in the still-occupied by the Ottomans, Macedonia. During the Balkan Wars, the Papapouli-Katerini-Platy “connecting” line was constructed through the Tempi of Pinios, with a total length of 136 km.

The first train running between Athens and Thessaloniki was launched in 1918, when all the Macedonian networks had been ceded by the allies. In 1920, the first international Athens-Paris train crossing Yugoslavia ran under the name Simplon Orient Express. The network generally entailed complicated technical works and had to overcome high mountains.

The picture of the 1915 routes is as follows:

  • Piraeus – Athens – Lianokladi – Larisa (travel duration: 12 hours)
  • Piraeus – Schimatari – Chalkida (duration: 3 hours)
  • Schimatari – Livadia (duration: 2.5 hours)
  • Lianokladi – Lamia – Stylida (duration: 25 minutes)
  • Lianokladi – Larisa (duration: 6 hours and 20 minutes)
  • Larisa – Papouli (duration: 1 hour and 40 minutes)

This network was the starting point for the creation of SEK (Hellenic State Railways), the international width railway, which reached the northern and eastern borders, with the gradual integration of the pre-existing sub-sections. Since 1950, the “automotrices” started being used in the network to provide great flexibility. In 1963 and 1967 respectively, the “Hellas Express” and “Acropolis Express” trains were launched, connecting Athens with Munich and other German cities and offering their services mainly to the immigrants of Germany.

In 1970, the year of establishment of the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE), which took charge of all the Greek railways (except for the Electric Railway), train traffic was suspended in the Lianokladi – Lamia – Stylida branch and resumed in 1991. The Yugoslav crisis made things more difficult for OSE, as direct routes to foreign countries, but also local routes such as Florina – Cremenitsa – Vitola, were actually suspended.

The Athens-Thessaloniki section is still considered to be the “favorite” child of the Greek railway network as it takes up most of the Community funds for its modernization. Based on the OSE Business Plan forecast, this section is among those that can generate profits. Today, works such as the large tunnels of Kallidromos are being carried out, to make the route significantly shorter.

Service quality on the Athens-Thessaloniki axis has increased considerably since 1989 when the Intercity Trains, specially constructed for OSE by a consortium of one West German and one East German company (AEG-LEW), were launched. The Intercity train has also achieved the speed record on the Greek network running at 165 km/h on 21 November 1989 in the Domokos – Paleofarsalos section.

Source: ELEFTHEROTYPIA Special Report: “THE HISTORY OF THE RAILWAY”