Thessaloniki’s strategy for 2030 aims to modernise and expand rail transport

Thessaloniki’s strategy for 2030 aims to develop the city in all sectors in order to develop the economy and tourism and to offer all the advantages that lead to an increase in the standard of living of its citizens. Infrastructure development is a priority of this document and includes transport, which needs modernisation and expansion. The strategy mentions the development of road infrastructure, but the most important and most valuable are the projects to modernise and expand rail transport and create the metro network. 

Thessaloniki's strategy for 2030The population of the Greek city of Thessaloniki, together with its metropolitan area, is about 815,000, and over the next decade it is expected to grow by 0.12% to over 820,000 in 2035, according to United Nations statistics.

The number of tourists using road transport to reach Thessaloniki increased by 50% in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year, reaching 3.6 million.

In September, Voula Patoulidou, president of the Thessaloniki Tourism Organization, said that tourism is experiencing a revival after a drastic decline caused by the pandemics, and it is a success for the city in the tourism segment that in 2023 the International Congress & Convention Association (ICCA) included the city, with a rich history of 2300 years, in the 70th place in the list of global destinations. In August 2023, tourism in Thessaloniki had a hotel occupancy rate of 90%. According to the Thessaloniki Tourism Organization, a decade ago, the July-August period was extremely low in terms of tourist numbers and has now become a dynamic destination even in the city break segment. The organisation’s statistics show that in 2010 the city recorded 1.5 million overnight stays, and that this has now risen to over 4 million, half of which are foreign tourists. Destinations, attractions, services, and other elements are important for tourists, but it is the transport system that can support the increase in tourist numbers, which is one of the great advantages of the city having direct air connections to and from other national and international destinations, the latter being represented by direct air transport to 117 destinations to 35 countries, and to Athens for example, an extremely important city of Greece from all points of view, the city has daily connections. Cruise tourism is also important to the city’s tourism sector, with 68 ships from 13 cruise lines arriving in port in 2023.

Located at the crossroads of east and west, Thessaloniki facilitates the connection between Southeastern Europe, the Balkans and the Middle East and is Greece’s second largest economic, industrial, commercial and transport hub. The city has a highly diversified economy compared to other Greek cities and includes the manufacturing, energy and agricultural sectors. The economic activity of the city relies heavily on the trade relations of the port which is an essential part of the connectivity with and to the Balkans, Southeastern Europe, Central and Eastern Europe. In the first half of 2023, Thessaloniki Port Authority (ThPA) announced an increase in container transit as well as traffic through the passenger terminal, and a decrease in intermodal and conventional cargo transport. Revenue from the container terminal increased by 9.6% to EUR 29.4 million, while turnover from the conventional cargo terminal showed a decrease of 30.6%, to EUR 9 million. Container throughput increased by 11.3% due to improvements in loading and unloading processes and by introducing two additional gantry cranes.

As of 2019, the Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, announced plans to develop the northern region of the country with a focus on Thessaloniki which through the projects implemented will become an international transport and trade hub for Southeastern Europe and the Balkans. The government’s plan is to concentrate investment and to modernise and expand the underlying transport infrastructure and technology.

Priorities involve the development of a technology and innovation park, strengthening inclusive transport infrastructure within the port, creating a business park and a metropolitan park highlighting the culture of the oasis.

In September 2022 Kyriakos Mitsotakis presented a development plan for Thessaloniki until 2030 that includes 30 projects that will transform the city by delivering projects and attracting investment to strengthen the city’s position on the global map of trade, innovation, investment and education centres.

The plan for the metropolitan region of Thessaloniki is based on four directions involving infrastructure, health, entrepreneurship and innovation as well as landscape architecture and interventions on these segments that will interweave the historical side of the city with what modern elements and activities mean.

All the projects and programmes to be implemented have a value of around EUR 9.3 billion of which EUR 8.2 billion will be public projects and EUR 1.3 billion involve investments in private projects.

Among the plans presented, the development of the city will mean the construction of a new terminal at the airport, the construction of a FlyOver motorway, the realisation of the metro system, a railway connection between the port and the city’s central station, the rehabilitation and development of the city expo centres, a new hospital, new school units and residential neighbourhoods for students, as well as the development of various areas for agreement, entertainment, tourism, etc.

The Thessaloniki 2030 strategy aims to position the city as a central economic, industrial and commercial element in the region that will provide competitive advantages and development and business opportunities to transform the economy of the city and the region.

On the infrastructure segment, the strategy proposes 11 projects with a total value of about EUR 6.8 billion, of which seven are dedicated to transport infrastructure projects, estimated at EUR 6.2 billion, covering public rail and rail transport, strengthening and development of the port infrastructure and its connection to the rest of the city, and modernisation and development of the road infrastructure.

Transport projects in Thessaloniki’s strategy for 2030

EUR 100 million was the budget allocated for the construction of a new terminal at Thessaloniki International Airport Macedonia, which was included in the strategy, but was completed by Fraport in 2021 after four years of construction. The project included a new terminal complex connected by skyway bridges to the existing terminal doubling the available area of the existing terminal, the number of departure gates, providing also commercial spaces and restaurants.

The strategy includes a budget of EUR 373 million for the construction of a New Eastern Ring Road (FlyOver) project through a PPP, with a consortium of Avax and Mytileneos winning the contract. The project involves the construction of a 13.5 km four-lane motorway, which will cross through eight new bridges and three tunnels. This new infrastructure will help reduce congestion in the city and is expected to be completed in 2026.

EUR 698.5 million will be invested in modernisation and extension works of the road infrastructure in general, including a connection to the 6th pier of Thessaloniki Port.

For the expansion of the infrastructure of the 6th Pier of Thessaloniki Port and the rehabilitation of the port infrastructure the budget foreseen in the strategy is EUR 180 million. For this project, in 2022 the Port of Thessaloniki (ThPA) announced that a joint venture formed by Mytilineos, Rover Maritime and HDK has won the EUR 150 million contract for the expansion of the marine works infrastructure of Pier 6. In November 2023, Thessaloniki Port Authority decided to re-launch the tender for this project to select a contractor by publishing an Expression of Interest to participate in the first stage of the tender procedure. It is the largest investment project undertaken by ThPA under the concession agreement with the Greek State and concerns the construction of an additional quay wall of 513 metres, the construction of an additional yard area of 306.5 metres width and additional infrastructure works necessary to ensure interoperability between the new quay wall and the yard area.

The project will be implemented by 2025 and would generate annual revenues for the port of EUR 230 million, as well as EUR 35 million per year increased public revenues from taxes. The project will provide easy access for container ships with a capacity of 24,000 TEU.

Enhanced rail connections 

The Thessaloniki 2030 strategy includes rail infrastructure projects and the development of the metro system.

Ergose and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport will implement five rail infrastructure projects in Thessaloniki, under PPP arrangements, worth EUR 2.95 billion. The projects will be carried out on lines totalling 598 km and aim to rehabilitate lines and strengthen connections with the city’s transport system, as well as with the rest of Greece’s rail network to increase passenger and freight transport capacity, with freight traffic being essential in attracting road transport flows.

Included in these projects is the construction of the new 206 km electrified Thessaloniki – Nea Karvali – Toxotes line and an intermediate station, the total value of which is estimated at EUR 1.69 billion. The new line will be part of the Eastern Railway Egnatia connecting Thessaloniki with the port of Kavala and Xanthi, and to the north with Alexandroupolis and Ormenio. It is also of international connectivity importance as it will serve the implementation of the connection of the ports of Northern Greece with the Bulgarian Black Sea ports (Burgas, Varna and Ruse) within the Sea2Sea priority between Greece and Bulgaria. In February 2023, Ergose held a meeting for the technical presentation of the project. When the line becomes operational, the journey time between Thessaloniki and Alexandroupolis will be about 3 hours.

“Kavala, but also the whole of Northern Greece, is at the heart of Ergose’s planning for a series of new generation railway projects, which will interconnect the so-called critical infrastructure with the main railway network. Our main concern is to provide Northern Greece with a modern, reliable and safe rail network, not only to boost local development, but to transform the region and the entire country into an international logistics hub,” the CEO of Ergose Christos Vinis said.

In terms of value, the second most important project is the modernisation and doubling of the 186 km Alexandroupoli – Ormenio/Greek-Bulgarian border line, estimated at almost EUR 1.1 billion. The project includes infrastructure upgrading, electrification works and installation of the ETCS Level 1 signalling system and modernisation of existing stations. Also in February 2023, Ergose made a technical presentation of the project in Alexandroupolis. Tenders for the project contract were submitted in the first half of this year and will be analysed and a winner will be selected.

“(…) Together with the Thessaloniki – Toxotes rail section, [the project] puts on the rails the largest public project of all times, the Eastern Egnatia Railway. This section of the line is of strategic importance for the upgrading of our country’s cross-border connections, while it enhances both freight and passenger traffic, as it will also be able to operate as a suburban service to the areas along the Evros River,” Christos Vinis said at the technical presentation of the project.

As part of the modernisation of the Alexandroupoli – Ormenio line and the Sea2Sea multimodal transport project, through the CEF Transport call for proposals 2019, Greece has been awarded co-financing of EUR 1.39 million of the total eligible costs of EUR 2.77 million to carry out the necessary studies for the rehabilitation of the 62 km Pythio – Ormenio cross-border railway section.

The project is a key project of the Eastern Railway Egnatia and is closely linked to the above-mentioned project, being part of the transnational Sea2Sea project between Greece and Bulgaria. Sea2Sea between the two countries involves the Thessaloniki – Kavala – Alexandroupolis – Bourgas – Varna – Ruse multimodal corridor connecting Aegean ports in North-East Greece to the Black Sea ports, and further to the Danube. The project is of major importance for Greece as it ensures cross-border connections with Bulgaria (at Ormenio) and Turkey via Pythios and strengthens passenger and freight traffic.

The project is also part of the project to develop the railway infrastructure of the port of Alexandroupolis and to optimise its connectivity, which also involves the construction of a new line from the port to the Industrial zone of Alexandroupolis.

It should be noted that in 2020, the Ministers of Transport of Greece and Bulgaria signed an agreement to accelerate the implementation of the project for the modernisation and construction of the rail connection between Thessaloniki, Alexandroupolis and Ruse. The agreement is also intended to create a coherent legislative framework and regulation of customs procedures to facilitate cross-border transport to reduce freight transport times and, together with infrastructure and signalling works, will significantly increase transport capacity.

Another railway project included in the strategy involves the installation of the ETCS – Level 1 signalling system and track renewal on 70 km of the Thessaloniki – Idomeni line, part of the European Corridor X, connecting Thessaloniki to Budapest, via Northern Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary. The project also includes the replacement of 37 turnovers at selected stations, the installation of four new turnovers on a new 2.2 km siding line in the area of Mikro Dasos, the installation of the telecommunications network to ensure communications between stations and the Traffic Control Centre in Thessaloniki. The EUR 41 million contract was signed in March 2022 with a consortium formed by Alstom and Avax which will provide works for the introduction of the signalling system, electrification and track renewal. Alstom is responsible for the delivery, installation, testing and commissioning of ETCS Level 1 trackside solution Atlas 100, electronic interlocking technology, replacement of indoor and outdoor equipment such as axle counters, points machines, signals, and will install digital railway traffic control solution Iconis in Thessaloniki. The project should be completed in 2025 when trains will be able to run at speeds of 160 km/h.

EUR 150 million is also the budget for the modernisation of the 120 km Thessaloniki – Promachona line, which is part of the main line linking Piraeus, Athens, Thessaloniki and the Northern border, connecting Greece to Bulgaria via Sofia, Burgas and Vidin, and is part of the Orient/East Mediterranean corridor. The project also includes the electrification of the line, the upgrading of stations along the line and the installation of Automatic Level Crossing Systems. Under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) 2014 call for proposals, this project received a grant of EUR 500,000 out of the total eligible cost of EUR 1 million for the preparation of studies necessary for the implementation of the works. The implementation of the works will allow the running of 500 m long freight trains at speeds of 120 km/h with 22.5 ton axle load.

The fifth project part of these investments is the construction of the Western Thessaloniki suburban train or City train, for which the tender was launched in November 2021. The project has a value of EUR 53.4 million and will connect the 6th pier of the port of Thessaloniki via a 2 km section of line.

The whole project to create the suburban train system in the western part of the city involves the revitalisation of the existing lines that are disused and the construction of new sections that will provide a fast connection between the two terminus points, crossing through important residential neighbourhoods such as Kordelio, Eptalofos, Diavata, Menemeni, Sindos, which will have connectivity to the port. The system involves a network of three lines and 16 stations that will cover a significant part of the metropolitan area of Thessaloniki. The first line involves the connection between the 6th pier at the port and the central railway station of Thessaloniki, a second line will provide the connection between Thessaloniki and the city of the Diavata metropolitan area, located about 10 km from the centre of Thessaloniki, and the third line which would have four stations would provide the connection between the cities of the western metropolitan area of Thessaloniki built along the Lagkada road artery, which will obviously be integrated with the existing lines.

Metro system soon to be opened

Thessaloniki’s transport system benefits from a comprehensive bus network providing connections to major tourist points and economic hubs. Also on the public transport front is the Karavakia Water Bus which provides transport connections between the city centre and its beaches, as well as to three towns (Peraia, Neoi and Epivates) which are part of the metropolitan region of Thessaloniki. Bus transport is the only public transport service and, although it has a comprehensive network, it provides only 30% of the total traffic in the city, which is the only European city with a population of 1 million that does not have an urban rail network. This problem causes high congestion, with extremely long journey times, and another problem is parking, with 50% of vehicles parked illegally.

Thessaloniki’s most important public transport project is the construction of the metro network. The project is being carried out on two axes involving the basic route and the extension to Kalamaria, the most densely populated city of the metropolitan region of Thessaloniki, located in the south-east about 7 km from the city centre. The metro network project was included in the transport development strategy drawn up by the local authorities which was completed in 2000.

The realisation of the metro network is part of the city’s transport system development policy with a horizon of 2030-2040, and in order to strengthen and expand the city’s transport system, Attiko Metro (renamed Elliniko Metro) will prepare the Thessaloniki Metro Development Study – MAMTH based on the selection of projects needed by the city to meet the transport demands and climate change problem. In 2021, Elliniko Metro, the company responsible for the network development, will update the city’s transport plan with a 20-year horizon by developing the Metro Network Development Plan in Thessaloniki based on the Thessaloniki Metro Development Study. The development of the study will take into account the need for transport in the city and its metropolitan area of 1.1 million inhabitants.

The construction of the metro system is the most important transport project of the city and has an estimated value of EUR 2.1 billion for the two lines (forming the basic project and the extension of the network to Kalamaria).

The main connection concerns the construction of a 9.6 km single track tunnel line served by 13 stations and a 55,000 m2 depot in the suburb of Pylea, about 7 km from the city. Of the total length, 7.7 km have been built by two Tunnel Boring Machines and the remaining 2 km are built by the cut and cover method. The line will be crossing the city from the north-west between the central station of Thessaloniki and the south-east in Nea Elvetia terminal station.

Work on the line began in 2006 with a design and construction contract signed with a consortium formed by Aegek, Impregilo, Ansaldo, SELI and AnsaldoBreda, companies from the consortium were acquired and now the companies forming the consortium are Aktor, Webuild, Hitachi Rail STS and Hitachi Rail Italy.

EUR 1.5 billion is the project value of this line, of which 48% is supported by the European Investment Bank (EIB), 40% is European co-financing and the remaining 12% is the authorities’ contribution.

In 2013, the contract for the design and construction of the network extension to Kalamaria from 25 Martiou station (on Line 1) to Mikra was signed. The company Aktor ATE was the winner of the EUR 400 million contract. This project, with a total budget of EUR 518 million, received European co-funding through the Regional Operational Programme “Macedonia – Thrace” 2007-2013 (Phase A) and the Operational Programme “Infrastructure, Environment, Sustainable Development (Phase B) and support from the European Investment Bank (EIB). The underground line is 4.8 km long with five stations (Nomarchia, Kalamaria, Aretsou, Nea Krini and Mikra) and will provide a 15-minute journey to the centre of Thessaloniki. It will have the capacity to carry 63,000 passengers per day, eliminating 12,000 vehicles per day resulting in a reduction of 43 tonnes of CO2 emissions per day.

The Cohesion Fund has allocated co-financing of over EUR 900 million for the construction of the Thessaloniki metro network – for both lines.

Both lines, which will be automated, are in advanced stages of construction and according to Elliniko Metro, which is responsible for the implementation of the Thessaloniki metro project, the first line is at a final stage of 90.7% and the extension to Kalamaria 85%.

Line 1 was originally planned to be operational in 2023, but the opening has been postponed due to financial problems and archaeological discoveries in the city centre.

Line 1 will be operated by 18 four-car automatic trains, operational in GoA4 built by Hitachi Rail which were delivered in 2021 and entered testing. In May 2023, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, together with the Minister of Transport and representatives of the local authorities, made the first trip on the train put into testing along the line. They have a capacity to carry 450 passengers with a maximum capacity of 18,000 passengers per hour per direction. Also, as part of the tender launched in December 2021, bids have been submitted for the purchase of 15 additional trains worth EUR 142 million of which 6 would run on Line 1 and 9 on the extension to Kalamaria. The contract involves the design, construction and commissioning of the new trains and should be delivered within 2.5 years from the date of contract signature.

In the fourth quarter of 2024, Thessaloniki’s metro network will be inaugurated and will have 14.5 km served by 18 stations. In October, Elliniko Metro signed with Thema Consortium, formed by ATM (Azienda Trasporti Milanesi with 51%) and Egis (49%), the contract to operate and maintain both lines for 11 years. The contract was signed in Agia Sophia station by representatives of the consortium companies and the CEO of Elliniko Metro, Nikolaos Kouretas. The event was attended by the Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Minister of Infrastructures and Transport, Christos Staikouras, the Deputy Minister of Infrastructure and Transport, Nikos Tachiaos, as well as the CEO of Elliniko Metro, Nikolaos Kouretas and representatives of local authorities.

“We are entering the final stretch for the completion of one of the most important projects that have been carried out in our country, the operation of the Thessaloniki Metro. The Public-Private Partnership solution was advanced and the best international practices were adopted, in order for the operation and maintenance of the network to be carried out in the most orderly and efficient manner way to ensure high quality services to the passenger public,” the Minister of Infrastructure and Transport said.

“It was precisely 4 years ago, when the debate on how the Thessaloniki Metro Project will be completed and how it will operate was initiated. You see, neither of the two issues had been resolved,” the CEO of Elliniko Metro said, adding that the PPP contract is a premiere “to have the metro operated and maintained by a private entity (…) a model that exists only in seven cities in Europe.”

Worth EUR 250 million, the consortium will be responsible for the day-to-day operation of the facilities, systems, rolling stock and the provision of other contract-specific services, including the management of the automatic fare collection system, as well as the installation and operation of the IT-ERP system to support the administrative operation of Thessaloniki Metro.

The signing of the contract “marks the big change that is coming to the transport map and the daily life of the citizens of Thessaloniki. We are now in the final phase of the project before entering transport services and the assignment of the operation to a private company is a brave political decision,” the Deputy Minister of Infrastructure and Transport, Nikos Tachiaos.

Every day, Line 1 is estimated to carry 250,000 passengers, and with the extension to Kalamaria, the number of passengers will increase to 313,000 per day. It is estimated that the new transport system will reduce the number of cars by 57,000 per day, resulting in a reduction of CO2 emissions by 212 tonnes per day.

According to plans, Thessaloniki’s metro network will be extended. One of them involves the construction of a metro line to Thessaloniki Airport, an extension of the Kalamaria line from Mikra station and will be about 5.5 km long with four stations, including the terminus at the airport. When this line is also operational, the city’s metro system will be 20 km long and will become the backbone of mobility in the city and its metropolitan area. Another extension will be built from Dimokratias station (on Line 1) to the suburb of Stavroupoli (located about 5 km north of Thessaloniki). According to Thessaloniki’s 2030 strategy, both extensions are in the study stage.

If these plans for the development of the metro network are implemented, the metro public transport system will be able to carry about 500,000 passengers per day.

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