Macedonia’s government, having been given 46.4 million euro financing by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, plans to start an upgrade of a 30km rail link between Kumanovo and Beljakovce in spring 2013 – the first step in the long-awaited Skopje – Sofia railway link.
But those hoping to enjoy a train ride between the capital cities ofMacedoniaandBulgarianeed not rush to the ticket office just yet. Completion of construction of the third and final phase of the railway line toMacedonia’s eastern border is pencilled in only for 2022.
The rail link project is part of Pan-European Corridor 8, which is intended to link the cities ofDurresand Tirana inAlbaniawith the Macedonian capital citySkopje,Bulgaria’s capitalSofia, and the Bulgarian cities ofPlovdiv, Bourgas andVarna, in all a distance of about 1500km.
The lack of a direct rail link betweenSkopjeand Sofia – an issue that has endured for many years – has been seen as having negative economic consequences forAlbania,MacedoniaandBulgaria, as well as the region as a whole. Implementing the link has been complicated for years by issues of financing and politics.
Now, in terms of an agreement signed on August 21, the EBRD is providing financing for the Kumanovo – Beljakovce link.
The EBRD has granted the loan to the Macedonian state company responsible for railways, Public Enterprise for Railway Infrastructure.
The EBRD said that the project is supported by a substantial grant funding totalling four million euro provided by the EU’s Western Balkans Investment Framework for project design, tender preparation and implementation assistance. Introduction of an energy management system will also be supported by a 175 000 euro grant from the Central European Initiative.
The EBRD’s Director for Transport, Sue Barrett, said: “Once the entire Corridor 8 is operational, it will give Macedonia a shorter route to Black Sea ports. It is also expected to stimulate the regional economy by making transportation flows easier”.
Further development of this transport corridor will ultimately link the Black Sea in Bulgaria with the Adriatic in Albania.
“Industry, commerce and people in general – not only in FYR Macedonia but all along the route – will benefit from the new rail link upon its completion,” said Claudio Viezzoli, EBRD Director for Western Balkans.
Macedonia’s vice prime minister and minister of finance, Zoran Stavreski, said: “This corridor will develop a transportation system that will contribute to increasing trade betweenAlbania,MacedoniaandBulgaria. It will improve both access and connection with neighbouring countries and thus increase the competitiveness and development of the economy, as well as communication with European countries”.
The EBRD said that the project is also expected to stimulate reform in further areas such as track access charges being in line with EU rail sector guidelines and the commercialisation of non-core assets across the company. The project also envisages an energy efficiency programme to improve the energy performance of the company.
In July, Macedonian transport minister Mile Janakieski said that plans were to start construction of the first section of the railway towards the country’s eastern border by February or March 2013.
“In September the tender for a construction company will be announced and in February or March next year the construction work [of the line] from Kumanovo to Beljakovce section will begin,” he said. It was expected that this would be completed in 2017.The other two remaining sections, from Beljakovce to Kriva Palanka and from Kriva Palanka to Deve Bair, should be completed by 2022, Janakieski said. Estimates are that because of the terrain, the final section will be the most difficult and costliest.
Public Enterprise Macedonian Railways Infrastructure on signed an agreement in March 2012 with Austrian consulting company ILF which is to prepare the project and tender documentation for selecting a construction company for the first phase.
(Photo: Eiji Miura/sxc.hu)