By Angelo Amante
ROME (Reuters) - The three metro stops serving the heart of Rome are shut because of decrepit escalators, a new blow to a city already struggling with a garbage crisis, potholed roads and tumbling trees.
The problem first emerged last October when an escalator collapsed in Repubblica station, injuring 24 people. Most locals expected the stop to re-open within days. Six months later, it remains closed. And this past month, worries about escalators closed two more city-centre stations.
"The impact on business and on the city's image is disastrous," said Valter Gianmaria, president of Rome's Confesercenti retailers' association. "How can Rome compete with other European cities?"
According to the World Metro Database, Rome has one of the smallest underground networks of any major European city -- just 61 km (38 miles) of tracks. By comparison, Madrid has 293 km and London 402 km, Europe's largest underground network.
Transport officials say they are trying to make the escalators safe. But they were custom-built, making spare parts hard to come by. The contract of the company charged with their maintenance has been cancelled and new technicians have been called in.
Rome's ATAC public transport company said it hoped to reopen the station next to the city's Spanish Steps in time for Easter. No date has been set for the other two.
Whenever they decide to open Repubblica, it will be too late for Anna Janos, who will have to close her clothing store, "Pontevecchio 69", because turnover has plunged 50 percent since last October.
"People no longer come here to go shopping," said Janos. "I took over this business in 2017, but now I'll find a job as someone else's employee."
(Editing by Crispian Balmer, Larry King)