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Dogged by buses afire, Roman commuters get new metro station

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By FRANCES D’EMILIO, AP
ROME

Romans have a new metro station, but they’ll still have to brave aging, overcrowded buses that sometimes burst into flames if they want to take public transport into the heart of Italy’s capital.

The subway stop was inaugurated on Saturday near Piazza San Giovanni, a busy interchange, extending the C line from eastern, working-class neighborhoods to the edge of the capital’s historic heart.

The opening, years behind schedule, brings some relief to Rome’s commuters. Recently, a bus exploded on its route in a thunderous blast that sent up thick smoke not far from Trevi Fountain. The bus was one of about a dozen vehicles in the city’s fleet this year to go aflame, forcing drivers to evacuate frightened passengers.

Passengers descending into the new station can admire ancient Roman artifacts discovered during the tunnel’s careful excavation. Related digging also unearthed military barracks from ancient Roman days.

“We have started a kind of voyage through time,” Mayor Virginia Raggi said.

Original subway extension plans called for tunneling past central Piazza Venezia and under the Tiber River toward the Vatican so Rome would finally have a metro that goes through the heart of the city. There was even hope that a successful bid for the Summer Olympics might bring funding for the expansion.

But Rome’s populist, 5-Star mayor gave the Olympics bid the thumbs down, saying Romans had more pressing needs.

Raggi recently did an about-face, vowing to give Rome a subway that crosses its center and past the Vatican. Without a windfall of funding for the Olympics, however, the city’s ailing finances would be hard-pressed to handle such a project.

Residents of the Eternal City are used to long waits for buses, so they might be resigned to waiting for 600 new buses the city promises will arrive next year.

Some suppliers of tires, shock absorbers and other spare parts have quit outfitting the buses because they’re tired of waiting for payments from cash-strapped ATAC, Rome’s public transit company. Years of corruption scandals and over-hiring blamed on cronyism have dwindled ATAC’s coffers.

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Follow Frances D’Emilio at www.twitter.com/fdemilio

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