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European funds support Renaissance Balkan railways

European funds support Renaissance Balkan railways
photo: railway
03 / 05 / 2021

Renewed interest in the general modernisation of outdated infrastructure and rolling stock in the Western Balkans is alluding to the need for significant investment in countries throughout the region. European funds are richly drawn on many different projects that support the modernisation of the entire rail sector, and this trend is to continue in 2021 and subsequent years.

This trend was partly supported by the European Union (EU), which in many cases provided funding for the renovation of existing lines or the construction of new infrastructure on strategic pan-European transport corridors.

Investments in railway infrastructure to increase transport efficiency and logistics are considered to be a catalyst for economic growth and a means of promoting exports. Increased passenger transport is only a secondary motive in a region dominated by bus transport.

Serbia probably has the most ambitious and concrete plans. After the reconstruction of 195 km of regional lines in 2020, the country plans to carry out an additional 318 km this year to complete work on the regional network. This will increase the line speed to an average of 60-100 km/h in regional areas.

Work is planned on the following routes:

  • Niš – Zajecar (108km)
  • Lapovo – Kraljevo (84km)
  • Subotica – Senta (38.5km)
  • Markovac – Resavica (53km)
  • Kumane – Banatsko Miloševo (28.5km section of the Zrenjanin – Kikinda line), and
  • Kikinda – MSK Kikinda line (6km).

Work will also continue on the high-speed line between Belgrade and Novi Sad, which is part of the wider Belgrade-Budapest line and which is funded by Russia and China.

Other key projects include the reconstruction of the Niš - Dimitovgrad railway, which is financed by a loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB); Niš - Brestovac, which is financed by the EU's instrument of pre-accession assistance; and Jajinci - Malá Kṛṣṇa, supported by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

Albania is planning its biggest investment in the rail sector in 20 years. Priority projects already started include the remediation of the 151 km Tirana - Durres - Elbasan - Pogradec line and the construction of a new line 2.8 km from Lina to the Macedonian border.

The line is part of pan-European Corridor VIII and is considered a key element in the development of multimodal transport. After completion of the works at the end of 2021, the Tirana, Skopje and Sofia railways and Durrës port on the Adriatic coast will connect with the Black Sea ports of Burgas and Varna. It is also planned to connect Pogradce with the Greek rail network.

The priority project in Slovenia is the construction of a second track on the 27 km Divaca - Koper line, a €1 billion plan that includes eight tunnels, two bridges and viaducts that will be completed by 2025.

Koper is the largest freight hub in the northern Adriatic, but the existing rail link is at maximum capacity. However, the work to double the track will be challenging and costly, as it passes through hilly terrain. According to local reports, neighbouring Hungary has already withsteed from the project and it remains to be seen whether the EIB will continue with the €250 million financing agreement.

Work is also underway on projects to modernise the rest of the network, which are worth EUR 700 million. The aim is to reduce train delays and increase annual passenger numbers from 14 million to 22 million over the next seven years. One of the key projects is the Maribor - Šentilj line, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2022. Slovenia also plans to fully renew its passenger fleet by 2023.

For Macedonia,  2021 will also be a year of capital investment in transport infrastructure, including railway.

The investments are expected to amount to EUR 537.8 million, with most of the funds going towards the construction of the line to Bulgaria and the modernisation of the Pan-European Corridor X. Work is also planned on the second section of the Beljakovce - Kriva Palanka line and on the Kumanovo - Beljakovce line, with the launch of a preliminary feasibility study for the Skopje - Kicevo section.

In Croatia, the commercialisation of the passenger transport environment will continue. The state operator HZ Passenger should expect competition on the market which could lead to the introduction of new services. There are also plans to acquire new rail infrastructure maintenance contracts and offers from private companies.

A number of network modernisation projects are under way, with priority given to the Panon and Mediterranean corridors, for which EUR 2 billion of EU funds have been secured. These include the Rijeka-Zagreb line, which is expected to be completed by 2030 at an estimated cost of EUR 1.6 billion. This will reduce the journey by rail to Vienna to 2 hours and to Belgrade to 3.5 hours.

The ŽPCG in Montenegro reached an agreement with the financial entity for the financing of rolling stock, Eurofima, on a loan of EUR 10 million at a favourable credit rate to support the overhaul of rolling stock, which will help improve local and international passenger transport. The funds will also support investments in 15 new or used passenger cars, while a further EUR 13 million will be invested in three new EMUs.

Kosovo is preparing tenders for the remediation of two lines, the works will be financed from its own resources and the EBRD. These include the line from Pristina to Hani i Elezit on the border with Macedonia and the Pristina - Leshak route (Serbia's border). The plan is to modernize the network by 2022 and increase the speed to 80-120 km /h.