EUROPE: Two international rail projects in the Western Balkans region are to benefit from European Union funding as part of a package of transport investment agreed at a summit in Trieste on July 12.

Under the Transport Community Treaty, the EU has agreed to co-fund seven projects with a combined value of €500m which would improve links connecting the region with EU member states. The package includes a mix of rail, road and inland waterway improvements.

Both rail projects are being funded as part of the TEN-T Orient/East-Med corridor. The largest single grant in the package will provide €70m towards the estimated €152·3m cost of completing the long-planned 200 km rail link between the Macedonian capital Skopje and Sofia in neighbouring Bulgaria.

Work on the project has proceeded in fits and starts since 1994. Macedonian Railways has refurbished the Skopje – Kumanovo – Beljakovci line, while funding was allocated a decade ago for work on the Radomir – Gyueshevo line in Bulgaria. The final stage is to close the 57 km gap between Gyueshevo and Beljakovci.

The other rail element in the package provides €28·4m towards a €56·4m programme of upgrading and electrification now underway in Serbia on the 98 km Niš – Dimitrovgrad section of the Beograd – Sofia main line.

Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said the signing of the treaty opened up ‘a new era of co-operation between the EU and the Western Balkans’. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev added that it would be ‘a great benefit for the citizens of Macedonia’.