Athens pressed to improve Olympic transport and safety

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The Independent Online

Members of the International Olympic Committee arrived in Athens yesterday to inspect progress on transport projects for next summer's Games, with experts warning that delays could cause gridlock for many of the 250,000 visitors expected.

While the three-day IOC inspection began, Gianna Angelopoulos, Athens' chief organiser, admitted work on tram and suburban rail lines was far behind schedule. "We are as worried over this as they [the IOC] are. In any case we have to have an alternative which can solve this problem," she said.

The two lines linking southern venues and the airport with the city centre are vital to relieve the notoriously congested capital. Gilbert Felli, the IOC director, described the situation as tense. Athens is months behind the timetable set down by the international committee's own Swiss transport expert, Pierre Phillipe. With less than 300 days to go until the opening ceremony, transport problems have taken the shine off an otherwise impressive comeback by beleaguered Greek organisers who have made progress on venues and vowed to make security their top priority.

The government answered foreign safety concerns with a 25 per cent increases in security spending for the two-week sporting extravaganza, taking the budget to an unprecedented €650m (£454m). "Greece is facing one of the biggest challenges in its history," said George Floridis, the Public Order Minister. "In the face of these demands, our [security] budget is the biggest ever and far surpasses previous Olympic Games."

Visitors will find themselves at the centre of a land, air and sea operation that will have snipers perched on the ancient Acropolis and jet fighters circling the Olympic village in the foothills of Mount Parnitha.

In recent weeks, Greek organisers have found themselves under mounting foreign pressure because of a leaked American government report that highlighted security failures in a series of training exercises in August. The Washington Post quoted a US official expressing concern that fake explosives had been taken past personnel and on to a ferry. "If you can get the big stuff through, getting chemical and biological stuff through is no problem," he said.