EU supports improvements to Balkan railroads

27/05/2014

Completing the European transportation corridors 8 and 10 will provide sustainable transportation and easier access to the EU market.

By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European times in Skopje -- 27/05/14

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The EU is assisting the development of railways in the Balkans. [AFP]

The EU is allocating funds to Balkan countries to reconstruct their railroad infrastructure to improve transportation to and from the Union and enable the region to more efficiently implement Union standards, officials said.

The EU will invest nearly 30 million euros in the Bitola-Kremenica portion of the railroad in Macedonia through the pre-accession funds that will re-establish the connection with Greece via Bitola.

The EU also said it will establish a project to complete the railroad from Kriva Palanka to the Macedonia-Bulgaria border and will finance construction of the 31-kilometre portion from Kumanovo to Beljakovce on the European East-West transportation corridor 8.

Bulgaria is already using EU funds to complete the 2-kilometre portion of the railway to the Macedonian border.

The railway is one of the shortest ways to connect southern Europe to Central Asia and the Middle East. It runs from Bari to Durres, Tirana, Skopje, Sofia and Varna.

"It is very important for the Balkans to complete and modernise transportation corridors 8 and 10, which cross in Macedonia, according to EU standards," said Kristi Bombol, a professor at the Technical Faculty in Bitola.

"EU's transport policy focusses on modernising and developing railroads because this mode of transportation reduces costs and protects the environment," Bombol told SETimes.

Bombol said the Kremenica-Bitola railroad has been idle for 30 years, and since it will extend a connection to an EU member state, its rebuilding will have a great benefit by increasing the flow of people, goods and capital.

Officials said work will begin at the end of this year and will be completed in 18 months.

"This leg of corridor 10 will become an operational pan-European corridor because it will become an extension of the pan-European corridor 4, connecting Greece and Turkey, that ends in the port of Igumenica," Dragan Simonovski, spokesperson for the Macedonia transportation and communication ministry, told SETimes.

The EU said improving the railway infrastructure will support relationships with the Union.

"Railways not only enable a faster flow of goods, but ensure a more sustainable method of transportation. This railway will also open greater opportunities for people, not only among the neighbouring countries, but beyond, which is the purpose of corridors 8 and 10," the European Commission (EC) in Skopje told SETimes in a statement.

Within the context of EU accession, improving railway infrastructure means easier access to the common EU market, and an opportunity to follow EU commercial and other trends and practices, the EC office said.

ERGOSE, a subsidiary of the Hellenic Railways Organisation, said Greece has a railroad investment programme 2004-20 that is co-financed by the EU.

"The plan by Macedonia, Greece's neighbour, to upgrade its railroad infrastructure from Bitola to Kremenica/Kafkasos will improve the existing transportation connection between the two countries as well as develop further the transportation flow of people and goods," ERGOSE told SETimes in a statement.

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Railroads are a harbinger for development everywhere, and it is more than important to put politics aside and make such projects a priority and a reality, said Ljube Stojkoski, president of Macedonia's Transportation and Communication Union.

"Improving the railway infrastructure is beneficial for all, and there is an ample return on the investments," Stojkoski told SETimes.

Correspondents Тzvetina Borisova in Sofia and Andy Dabilis in Athens contributed to this report.

What can the EU do to further improve railway transportation in the Balkans? Share your opinion in the comments section.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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