The Piraeus-Kifissia Electric Railway, better known as "ΙLEKTRIKOS" on February 27, 2012 completed 143 years of operation. It began as steam powered and later became electric powered and in 1869 it connected Athens with Piraeus, which until then were connected by means of carriages and "pamforia". The "pamforio" was a type of covered wagon with passenger seats which was pulled by 1 or 2 horses and it constituted the first means of public transportation.
Let’s take a look at certain milestones that marked this process:
- In 1834 Athens becomes the capital of the Greek government and a year later, in 1835 a first, unsuccessful proposal was made by Freiderikos Feraldis to the Greek government regarding the construction of a railway.
- Eight years later, in 1843, Alexander Ragkavis repeats in public the proposal for constructing a railway but once again there was no response.
- In 1855 the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexandros Mavrokordatos submits the first bill for establishing an Athens – Piraeus railway, which becomes a law and is published at the Government Gazette. It’s the law ‘TZ’ concerning "the establishment of a railway from Athens to Piraeus", which would grant the exploitation right for a period of 55 years to the company which would undertake the project. Two years later this exploitation right is increased to a period of 75 years.
- After some unsuccessful efforts to assign the project in 1867, the project is awarded to the English businessman Edward Pickering, who begins the construction works in November of the same year.
- One year later, in 1868, Pickering transfers his contractual obligations to the established company "Ap’ athinon eis Pirea sidirodromou" ("Athens - Piraeus Railway") - S.Α.P. S.A. On February 17, 1869 the aforementioned company had completed the works and a test route was made. The official inauguration took place in an atmosphere of general delight on February 27, 1869, having as passengers at the first itinerary Queen Olga, Prime Minister Zaimis, ministers, military staff, diplomats and other dignitaries.
At last the dream comes true. The steam engine with 6 wagons travels the 8,5 km. distance from Thissio to Pireas in approximately 19 minutes. The two cities (Athens and Piraeus) are now linked with iron railway tracks. Many good comments appeared on the press of this era. On March 3rd, 1869 the newspaper "Aiwn" ("Century") wrote that the railway had started operation and that there was maximum concourse of passengers and they all spoke about the optimal benefits that they gained from its use. The newspaper hopes that this little track will be the start of a complex railway network which will serve all the Greek territory.
- In the period between the date of the test route, in 1869 and the 16th of September, 1904, where the railway became electric the following events intervened: the laying of a double track and the start of the construction of a tunnel, in 1889, from Thissio up to Omonia (Likourgou and Athinas St.), where the old Omonia station was situated and which was inaugurated on May 17th, 1895.
The underground tunnel and the electrification have caused again a variety of comments from the Press of this era. Some of them are worth mentioning in order to show the reaction of the people of this era against any kind of innovation.
"What can I tell you, my friend…", said one of the guests. And leaning towards the person he was talking to he said seriously:- "Have you prepared your will;"
- Have you at least confessed?
- I didn’t have the courage to come unprepared. This tunnel looks like a guillotine to me."
In another article, on the 18th of September, 1904 the columnist of "Keron" (Times) with the nickname "Faliriotis", writes for the railway which became electric:
"- OneticketforFaliro, firstclass.
- You want a roundtrip ticket?
- Single, single. I can’t be sure that I will arrive alive…"
- In 1926, the Athens Piraeus Railway (SAP), the ATTICA RAILWAY, which operates the "BEAST" of Kifissia, that is the line from Attiki square up to Kifissia, with a fork from N. Iraklio up to Lavrio, as well as the ATHENS – PIRAEUS TRAM which operates the tram cooperate with the English group of companies "POWER". This collaboration results in the establishment of two companies: the Electric Transportation Company which undertakes the operation of the Tram and the Kifissia line and the Hellenic Electric Railways.
The Hellenic Electric Railways undertake the obligations of former Athens Piraeus Railway and at the same time undertake the commitment to improve the existing line and to extend the underground tunnel up to the ATTIKI station with a double line in order to connect the Electric Railway with Kifissia, with an underground station below OMONIA. The construction works began on January, 1928 and on June 21st, 1930 Eleftherios Venizelos inaugurated the underground station of OMONIA. Later, on 1948 and 1949 we had the inauguration of VIKTORIA and ATTIKI stations, respectively.
- In 1937, the Electric Transportation Company undertakes the electrification of the railway of Kifissia and in 1938 abolishes the Beast in order to complete the works. However, the construction works are not completed, due to the critical period. So, it’s not until 1950 that the completion of the electrification works and the exploitation of the ATHENS – KIFISSIA railway are granted from the Hellenic Transportation Company to the Hellenic Electric Railways. The latter continue the works which are completed gradually in 1957 with the operation of the Kifissia station. Thus, the transportation from PIRAEUS to KIFISSIA with the Electric Railway is now a reality.
- On January 1st, 1976 the Hellenic Electric Railways become property of the State and their name changes to Athens Piraeus Electric Railways (ISAP S.A.). The modernization, the progress and the concern for better, faster and reliable service for the passengers in a clean environment are continued until today. Throughout its historical progress, the railway has lived moments of greatness but it has also experienced disasters. It transported kings and prominent personalities, it was present at the first Olympic Games which took place in Athens in 1896 and also at the recent Athens 2004 Olympic Games, it transported soldiers that fought in the 1912-1913 war. The railway was bombed but it survived with pride until today, carrying out millions of itineraries which served billions of passengers.
- Also, the "ILEKTRIKOS" was operating from June 11th, 1955 until December 31st, 2001 the Green buses, which supplied the electric railways with passengers. The Green ones were an innovative and reliable means of transportation but the tendency for specialization of the transportation companies to specific ways of transportation as well as the need to create a unified company for Lines 2 and 3 led, in December of 1998 to the decision to gradually terminate this activity until December 31st, 2001. Thus, on February of 1999 began the gradual concession of the Green buses’ lines to ETHEL (Thermal Bus Company).
- Among other very important projects are included :
- the operation of ΤΡΑΜ at the beach of PIRAEUS (1910-1960)
- the operation of the TRAM of PERAMA (1936-1977)
Throughout the whole development course a major factor was the employee who especially loved the railway, since it constituted his/her own creation. The most important dates in the history of the Piraeus - Kifissia Railway are the following:
- 1869: The inauguration of the steam powered railway for the route Thissio – Piraeus from the company Athens Piraeus Railways S.A.
- 1889: Construction of the underground tunnel Thissio - Omonia
- 1904: Railways' electrification
- 1926: "Athens Piraeus Railways S.A." is renamed to "Hellenic Electric Railways S.A."
- 1976: Acquisition of "Hellenic Electric Railways S.A." by the Greek State and renaming to "Athens Piraeus Electric Railways S.A. (ISAP)".