Airport-to-Piraeus rail link a timesaver for tourists

Greece has begun operating a train between the Athens airport and the port of Piraeus, the country's biggest transit point for tourists visiting the Greek islands.

The trip between the airport and the port on the suburban rail link takes less than an hour, Transport Minister Michalis Liapis said Monday in an e-mailed statement.

Previously, visitors arriving at Athens airport took a subway into the city center and then a bus or train to the port, a trip that could take about two hours. Tourists often choose to skirt the Greek capital and fly directly to the Greek islands.

Greece spent about $13.5 billion to upgrade airport, transit and highway facilities to prepare for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

The infrastructure projects have helped draw tourists back to the Greek capital. Arrivals to Greece rose in 2005, after five years of declines. Athens' airport, the country's biggest, had a record 15 million people pass through last year.

The transport ministry is also in talks with local municipalities to extend the line from the airport to the port of Lavrio, providing another direct link to one of the busiest passenger ports.