Split into infrastructure and operating businesses in January 2002, Bulgaria's national railway must secure its future in a competitive market environment

Krasimir Krastanov is a PhD student, holding an MSc in engineering from the University of Transport in Sofia. He can be contacted at krasi_krastanov@yahoo.com

ON JANUARY 22 the Bulgarian train operating company BDZ-EAD took delivery of the first of a fleet of 25 Desiro diesel multiple-units from Siemens. This event marked the start of a programme to update and modernise the railway's passenger fleet.

For the launch, the first two Desiros were decorated with the colours of the national flag and set off from Varna on a demonstration tour accompanied by Transport Minister Nikolai Vassilev, reaching Sofia on the following day.

Siemens is to establish a joint venture to maintain the trains under a memorandum of understanding signed in Sofia on January 23 in the presence of Prime Minister Simeon of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and German Transport Minister Manfred Stolpe. The units will be based at the existing locomotive shed in Varna, where a three-track depot 120 m long will be fitted out by Siemens at a cost of €2m.

The air-conditioned Desiro units are equipped with facilities for disabled passengers, modern passenger information systems and ecologically-friendly retention toilets. They are intended to operate on regional routes, replacing older rolling stock that is expensive to maintain and operate. In particular, BDZ-EAD expects the new trains to generate major savings in fuel costs, allowing services to be maintained on routes where withdrawal of passenger services was previously being considered.

BDZ-EAD is looking next to acquire 25 three-car or four-car electric multiple-units able to run at up to 160 km/h on the country's main lines. If an option with Siemens is taken up, it will be another important step in the long-overdue replacement of an ageing fleet.

Bulgaria's national train operator is learning how to operate in a competitive environment. Rail remains an important factor in the national economy, but the railway must adapt to be able to compete more effectively against road transport.

Part of the impetus for change came with legislation that took effect in January 2002, ending the state monopoly on rail services. Intended to bring Bulgaria into line with European Union railway policy, the legislation divided the nationalised BDZ into two autonomous companies. The new infrastructure authority NRIC has 15775 employees, while BDZ-EAD is the national train operator with 17595 staff.

NRIC is responsible for 4318 route-km, of which 245 km is 760mm gauge. Around 65% of the standard-gauge network is electrified at 25 kV 50Hz, and 966 km is double-track. The network is now available to open access carriers as well as BDZ-EAD; the government hopes that the introduction of competition will raise the effectiveness of rail and improve the quality of service.

Despite the structural changes that have been made, there are some disadvantages. For example, problems persist in allocating station employees between the two companies, and this is still a slow process. More significantly, financial recovery remains elusive. For the moment, BDZ-EAD is still receiving grants of state aid every year to cover its operating losses. The state is also allocating between €5m and €10m every year to NRIC for building new infrastructure. Of the €208m invested in improvements by NRIC and BDZ-EAD over the last six years, no less than €95m came from the state budget.

Corridor projects

Of the 10 Pan-European transport corridors, five pass through Bulgaria, and several major investment projects are required to bring these corridors up to modern standards.

Work on the southern part of Corridor IV includes construction of a second bridge across the River Danube. The existing railheads at Vidin in Bulgaria and Calafat in Romania are being connected by a 12 km double-track link, creating a new rail corridor from Sofia to Timisoara, Hungary and northern Europe. The 1750 m long bridge will be designed for trains to cross at 160 km/h.

Land acquisition is in progress, and work is expected to start at the end of July or in early August with completion planned in three years. Cost of the scheme is €230m, of which €60m has been spent so far. The costs are due to be paid off in 17 years, and the state has guaranteed a €70m loan from the European Investment Bank. Further funds have been granted under the European Union's ISPA programme, and financial support has been received from French and German credit institutions.

Work has been in progress since early 2003 on reconstruction of the 156 km line connecting the capital Sofia with Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second-largest city. The project foresees line speed being raised to 160 km/h. Due for completion by 2008, the project has a total cost of €390m and so far about 30% of the work has been finished.

The 153 km route running southeast from Plovdiv to Svilengrad near the Greek and Turkish borders forms part of Corridors IV and IX, and upgrading to give a line speed of 160 km/h is due for completion this year. Plans envisage that tilting trains could use the line at 200 km/h, and the ultimate intention is to make further improvements to permit 220 km/h running.

The project began in 1999, and the total cost amounts to €340m. This includes €150m in bank credits, €135m in financial aid from the ISPA programme and €37m from the state budget. More than 80% of work has been completed, and the project is expected to be finished on schedule.

Just over 300 track-km is involved. The line is being electrified and double-tracked in places, with new bridges at 48 locations. It has also been necessary to build or rebuild 28 road overbridges and 29 underbridges, while seven station buildings are being reconstructed.

Corridor VIII is intended to link Dürres on the Adriatic with the Black Sea port of Varna through Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria. NRIC's existing line from Sofia to Pleven, Shumen and Varna is being thoroughly modernised with double tracking and electrification over 178 route-km, reconstruction of 95 route-km and installation of modern telecommunications equipment. Around 45% of the project has been finished to date, but some delay is expected beyond the target completion date of 2006.

To the southwest of the capital, NRIC plans to electrify the 80 km route leading to Kyustendil and Gyueshevo near the Macedonian border.

Around 58 km of new line is needed to close the link from Gyueshevo to Kumanovo, mostly in Macedonia. In March 2002 Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi and his Macedonian counterpart Slobodan Casule signed an accord to develop the rail link between the two countries, calling for US$191m in international funding from the EU, NATO, the World Bank, and the Balkan Stability Pact to support the project. The first 2·5 km section of the new line at the Bulgarian end has already been completed and is ready for service, including a 2 km tunnel under the border.

Recovering lost traffic

Recent years have seen a disastrous fall in the number of passengers carried; in 1998 the number of passenger journeys totalled 64·3 million, but by 2004 this had fallen to 27·9 million.

The main reason for this is competition from buses on the principal corridors. The railway has not been able to compete effectively owing to the poor condition of track on many routes, leading to extended journey times. At the moment fares for bus and train are similar, and buses are seen as offering better quality service in comparison with BDZ-EAD's ageing rolling stock and slow journeys. This is likely to change with the arrival of new rolling stock.

Political restrictions on raising fares have inevitably affected revenue, but some flexibility is now possible. This means BDZ-EAD can offer competitive rates on some routes on certain days of the week, marking the birth of a market-based fares structure.

Plans envisage segmenting the markets for commuter travel and long-distance traffic, with separate services offered to suit the needs of passengers. More capacity will be made available on short-haul suburban services, while more comfort and a range of business services will be provided for inter-city trips. Most passenger traffic is domestic, but improvements to international services are expected to reverse the recent decline in this business; the number of passengers using cross-border services fell from 61000 in 2003 to 49 400 during 2004.

Freight traffic has not suffered so seriously, but BDZ-EAD has recorded a steady decline from 24·4 million tonnes carried in 1998 to 18·5 million in 2002 and 17·5 million in 2004. In recent years traffic has been suspended on several lines totalling 308 km as the railway has striven to limit costs. More services may be suspended or little-used lines closed if financial targets cannot be met by any other means.

In the meantime the Ministry of Transport expects to invest an average of €408m every year until 2012 as its contribution to improving the quality of rail services.

  • CAPTION: The first of 25 two-car Desiro DMUs ordered from Siemens to revitalise regional services around Varna was officially unveiled in Bulgaria on January 22 Photo:Siemens TS
  • CAPTION: Two of BDZ's 52 surviving Lugansk-built 2 200 kW Class 07 Co-Co diesel locos were rebuilt with electric train heating in 2003 and redesignated as Class 07.1
  • CAPTION: Between 1999 and 2004, Koncar of Zagreb refurbished eight of BDZ's Electroputere-built Class 46 Co-Co electric freight locomotives as Class 46.2 for passenger operation
  • CAPTION: BDZ-EAD plans to segment the passenger market, tailoring services to specific needs

Modernisation programme aims to win back lost traffic

Delivery of the first of 25 two-car Desiro diesel trainsets from Siemens in January marked an important milestone in a programme to modernise Bulgaria's rail network and win back passenger traffic lost to competition from buses. Split into separate infrastructure and operating businesses in January 2002, Bulgaria's national railway faces a major challenge to secure its future in a competitive market environment. Upgrading and modernisation of the five Pan-European rail corridors that pass through the country is progressing steadily.

Le programme de modernisation vise à regagner le trafic perdu

La livraison par Siemens en janvier des premières 25 automotrices diesels à deux caisses Desiro a marqué d'une pierre blanche le programme de modernisation du réseau ferré de Bulgarie et permet de reconquérir un trafic voyageurs perdu en raison de la concurrence des autocars. Séparé entre infrastructure et exploitation en 2002, le réseau ferré national de Bulgarie doit faire face à un défi majeur pour assurer son avenir dans l'environnement d'un marché compétitif. L'amélioration et la modernisation des cinq corridors ferroviaires paneuropéens qui traversent le pays progressent régulièrement

Modernisierungsprogramm will verlorenen Verkehr zurückgewinnen

Die Ablieferung der ersten von 25 Desiro Diesel-Zweiwagenzügen von Siemens im Januar war ein wichtiger Meilenstein in einem Programm zur Modernisierung der bulgarischen Bahnen und dem Zurückgewinnen von Personenverkehr, welcher an die Buskonkurrenz verloren gegangen war. Nach der Aufteilung in Infrastruktur und Betreiberunternehmungen im Januar 2002 sieht sich die bulgarische Staatsbahn grossen Herausvorderungen gegenübergestellt, um ihre Zukunft in einem konkurrenzierenden Marktumfeld behaupten zu können. Die Aufarbeitung und Modernisierung der fünf pan-europäischen Bahnkorridoren, welche durch das Land führen, schreitet stetig voran

Un programa de modernización para volver a ganar tr? fico perdido

La entrega del primero de los 25 trenes diesel de dos coches Desiro de Siemens en enero señaló un hito importante en el programa de modernización de la red ferroviaria de Bulgaria en su esfuerzo para volver a ganar el tr? fico de pasajeros que había perdido debido a la competencia del autobús. Tras su separación en negocios de infraestructura y de transporte en enero de 2002, los ferrocarriles búlgaros se han enfrentado a un enorme reto en su lucha para asegurarse un futuro en un entorno de mercado competitivo. La modernización de los cinco corredores paneuropeos que cruzan el país est? progresando sin pausa