Is Bulgaria Going to Miss Out on 400 Million Euro for Its Railways Due to Inaction?

The State gave up on applying for the modernization of the Vidin – Sofia railroad
Dimitar Stoyanov

Bulgaria is at risk of losing hundreds of millions of free European funding for railroad projects because it has decided not to apply for the European Union (EU) Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) project to modernize the Vidin – Sofia railroad, with the first section being Vidin – Medkovets. The National Company Railway Infrastructure announced this at the end of 2015.

The EU implemented its strategy to connect Southeastern Europe to the rest of the Old Content through the construction of the combined cross-border bridge “New Europe” at Vidin – Calafat. This strategy also included a project for the modernization of the railroad Vidin – Sofia in the period 2007-2010. Its preparation was worth six and half million and 85% was funded by the EU. This project was updated later. Another ten and a half million were pumped in the technical design for the section Vidin – Medkovets between 2013 and 2015. According to Regulation 1316/2013, the project was designated by the EU as priority one and its execution was binding. The deadline for applications was February 16, 2015. It emerged at the end of last year at press conference in Vidin for the presentation of the prepared technical project that Bulgaria will not apply for it, despite the achieved degree of project readiness.

In addition to the decision to not apply for the modernization of the railroad Vidin – Sofia in the section to Medkovets, another serious cause for concern is the fact that Bulgaria has requested from CEF much less funding compared to neighboring Greece and Romania. Our country has applied for projects for a total of 179 million euro, Greece – 700 million euro, and Romania – for 1.1 billion euro.

So far Bulgaria has chosen to apply for three projects – reconstruction of the railroads Sofia – Bankya, worth 104.5 million euro for 8 km and Sofia – Elin Pelin – 57.7 million euro for 23 kilometers. The third project is a study of navigation on the Danube, worth seven million euro.

There will be no application for the project for the modernization of the railroad Vidin – Medkovets, worth 405 million euro for a stretch of 65 kilometers. Greece applied for the construction of the last section of the high-speed railroad between Athens and Thessaloniki, worth 444 million euro and a section of the railroad Athens – Patras for 297 million euro. They are part of the same corridor “Orient – Eastern Mediterranean” that includes Bulgaria’s connecting railroad Vidin – Medkovets – Sofia – Kulata. It is indicative that our southern neighbor has also applied for three studies related to Bulgaria. The first is the electrification of the railroad Thessaloniki – Promahon and the construction of two railroads through Nea Karvali to the port of Kavala. On its part, Romania is planning funding for two strategic studies, again related to the connectivity with Bulgaria – modernization of the railroads Craiova – Calafat and to – Filiashi – Turnu Severin – Caransebeş in the direction of Timisoara and Budapest from the same corridor of our connecting railroad Vidin – Medkovets- Sofia – Kulata. The reconstruction of the route Brasov – Sighisoara for nearly 1 billion euro is also identified as a potential project.

EU identifies nine corridors of European significance. “Ours” is the “Orient – Eastern Mediterranean” in the main direction Vidin – Sofia – Kulata. Budgetary frameworks are set for each country. Europe’s policy ensures that the least integrated (poor) countries, such as Bulgaria, will receive relatively most funds. However, they must be requested.

The Connecting Europe mechanism is separate from the operational programs and Bulgaria is currently preparing the application for the railroad Sofia – Septemvri.

It turns out that due to lack of political will and of interest in a “European development of Bulgaria” or due to incompetence, despite the drafted and approved projects, Bulgaria is not taking advantage of the opportunities provided by its EU membership.

The government of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov is ignoring the matching national and European priorities. For the first time in the history of modern Bulgaria, our country can use free funding for the development of its infrastructure. But it will not apply for the section Vidin – Medkovets, at least for now. We are giving up nearly half a billion euro and it is unclear why. Northwestern Bulgaria is the poorest and economically and demographically debilitated region in the EU. It would be a crime to deprive it of the financial opportunities provided by CEF. Separately, a comparative analysis of the costs and benefits of the project sections of the modernized railroad Vidin – Sofia shows that the investment will be most effective for the section Vidin – Medkovets.

The fact that Greece is building high-speed railroads, allowing speeds of 250 km/h, for 26 million levs per kilometer is a separate issue. Moreover, this is virtually and fully a tunnel construction. For comparison, the section Sofia – Bankya is renovated for 25 million levs per kilometer km and allows maximum speed of 160 km/h. The Romanians are renovating and building a railroad in the Carpathians for 22 million levs per kilometer. In the Peloponnese peninsula, the cost of high-speed railroads drops to around 8 million per kilometer. Maybe 12 -13 million per kilometer seem too insignificant for the Cabinet “Borisov”, therefore the rulers have no interest in the renovation of the Vidin – Medkovets section.





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