Region looking for ways to improve railroads

09/05/2013

One possible solution is to open the market to foreign investors, according to one advisor.

By Biljana Pekusic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 09/05/13

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Locomotives in Serbia are on average 40 years old. [Nikola Barutov/SETimes]

A train collision in Serbia this month that injured 22 people is putting renewed focus on the region's dilapidated transit system, which has fallen into disrepair since the conflicts of the 1990s and the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

Serbia's infrastructure ranks 110th on a list of 132 countries, according to the Serbia Chamber of Commerce, with its railroad lines up to a century old. Despite high-speed train technology available throughout Europe, trains can move only a maximum of 60 kilometres an hour on 62 percent of Serbia's rails. Speeds of 100 kilometres per hour are possible on only 2.5 percent of the line.

"The technical condition of railway in Serbia is disastrous," Dragomir Mandic, a traffic engineering professor in Belgrade, told SETimes.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), railway companies in both Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina report losses of 85 million euros to 100 million euros, with no money for maintenance or to repair lines.

"The government has taken the repayment of the railways debt, and we expect that this will enable more work on the tracks," FBiH Transportation and Communications Minister Enver Bijedic told SETimes.

Railway infrastructure in BiH sustained more than 76 billion euros of damage during the 1990s conflicts.

"We should open railway market and lead the foreign operators, while the infrastructure remains in public ownership," Muhidin Mujkic, an advisor in the Department of Transportation and Communications of the Foreign Trade Chamber of BiH, told SETimes.

He said he believes this would lead investors in BiH and to ensure money that the state does not have.

In Croatia, the average speed of trains has dropped to 60 kilometres an hour because of low investment and a lack of maintenance.

"Twenty years ago, from Zagreb to Rijeka, passenger trains were traveling 3 hours and 15 minutes. Today it is less than 5 hours," Darko Pericic, an official at Croatian Railways, told a Croatian newspaper. By comparison, trains in Germany have an average speed of 200 kilometres an hour and Austrians are experimenting with train speeds up to 330 kilometres per hour.

Poor safety on the tracks is one of the reasons why the train drivers wanted to stop rail traffic in Macedonia at the end of last year. The Macedonian Ministry of Transport promised to seek European loans to buy new trains and repair tracks.

The May 2nd collision happened in the Tosin Bunar Tunnel in Belgrade when a train on the Belgrade-Novi Sad line struck a train that had broken down in the tunnel. There were 335 train accidents in Serbia last year, killing 33 people.

The average age of the main railway lines in Serbia is 35 years old and locomotives and railcars are about 40 years old. Because of the line disrepair, the volume of freight transport by rail in the last year has been reduced by 24 percent.

Serbian Railways signed a contract with the Swiss company Stadler Busnang to buy 21 new electric passenger trains that can reach speeds of up to 160 kilometers per hour. These trains will run through Serbia from September next year, until August 2015, but it is unclear how they will be able to move on dilapidated Serbian lines.

Serbia has also committed to completing the railway Corridor 10 by 2020, which should have the electrified double track for speeds up to 160 kilometers per hour, but less than half of the corridor is prepared.

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"In Vojvodina, there are almost no lines on which trains go to the design speed," Pavel Domni, an engineer in Novi Sad, told SETimes.

Serbia is ideally situated to move both people and goods through Europe by rail if the infrastructure were improved.

"Of course, the main culprit is the state because money does not direct the repair and construction of new railways, nor the works are executed well," Milos Ivic, a professor of traffic engineering in Belgrade, told SETimes.

How often do you take the railroad? Would you use it more often if there were improvements? Share your thoughts in the comment field.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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