SERBIA: The European Bank for Reconstruction & Development, the European Union and the European Investment Bank have agreed to provide a joint financing package worth €2·2bn towards the modernisation of the 230 km Beograd – Niš main line to enable operation at up to 200 km/h.

The announcement was made by EBRD on February 28. On the same day, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood & Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić travelled by rail from Beograd Centar to Ripanj, where they signed a deal for the €82·8m initial tranche.

The agreed financial package includes a €598m EU investment grant, of which €265m has already been approved. EBRD says that this is the largest EU grant for a single project in Serbia to date.

A further €550m in loans is to be provided by EBRD, which the bank says would be the largest such grant to Serbia to date. The third element of the financing would be a €1·1bn loan from EIB.

The route modernisation is expected to include the construction of new bridges and tunnels on the line which forms part of the pan-European Corridor X. The aim is to bring down the journey time between the capital and Niš from the current 6 h to 1 h 40 min.

According to infrastructure manager Infrastruktura Zeleznice Srbije, the Stalać – Đunis section is expected to be fully realigned, with several new tunnels to be built.

Nis station, Serbia (Photo Toma Bacic)

Niš main line station – Photo: Toma Bacic

IZS signed a contract in February last year for the construction of a tunnel between Stalać and Đunis with a consortium led by China Railway 21st Bureau Group, a subsidiary of CRCC. The section of Corridor X north of Beograd which runs to the border with Hungary at Subotica is currently being rebuilt by Chinese and Russian contractors.

‘When we complete the project, Niš will be 1 h 40 min away from Beograd, and right now you cannot get there by car in less than 2½ h’, said President Vučić. ‘When the railway was built in 1884, it took 8 h to travel, now it takes 6½ h. Nothing has changed in 130 years. Now we are changing Serbia, with the help of the European Union.’


EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood & Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić on the train ride to Ripan

‘Modernising rail infrastructure and making rail transport safer and more efficient is one of our priorities in the Western Balkans and a key enabler for the region’s economic development’, said Matteo Colangeli, EBRD’s Director for the Western Balkans. ‘We have a longstanding commitment to the Serbian rail sector and we are pleased to team up with the European Union and the EIB on this landmark project.’