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Delays to Paris metro expansion threaten smooth 2024 Olympics - senators

Reuters

PARIS (Reuters) - France's ability to deliver a smooth-running 2024 Olympic Games could be hurt by expected delays to a massive expansion of the Paris metro network which already faces multi-billion euro cost overruns, French senators warned on Wednesday.

The 38.5 billion euro ($47.89 billion) 'Grand Paris Express' development, one of Europe's biggest infrastructure projects, involves building 200 km (124 miles) of track and 68 stations, and will be key to linking transport hubs and Olympic sites.

But surging cost projections may force President Emmanuel Macron's government to delay the construction of some lines -- an announcement on which is expected by mid February -- to avoid creating too big a hole in the public finances and breaking once again European Union budget rules.

"The delays and financing difficulties could harm the smooth running of the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games," a cross-committee grouping of Senators said in a statement.

The Grand Paris Express project includes an express line linking the capital's main international airport with the city center, metro lines serving deprived suburbs and another linked to a tech research center.

It was central to Paris' boast of "easy-to-access rapid public transport options to 100 percent of Games venues" in Paris' 2024 bid for the Olympics.

The new lines are also central to Paris' efforts to improve public transport accessibility for handicapped users. Only three percent of the city's more-than 300 metro stations are fully accessible to individuals with reduced mobility.

The senators' worries add to those expressed by the Cour des Comptes, France's independent audit body, which on Jan. 16 estimated the projects' overall cost at 38.5 billion euros, more than 12 billion euros higher than the last estimate of 2013.

The audit body too said it had "serious doubts" about the project's ability to open in time for the 2024 games.

"We have six and a half years until the games. This may seem a comfortable gap but in reality it is very short given the slow pace and complexities of our urban procedures," said senator Philippe Bas.

(Reporting by Julie Carriat; Writing by Richard Lough, Editing by William Maclean)