Recognising that the technical and operational condition of Slovenia's rail network does not meet the requirements of a modern competitive economy, the Ministry of Transport has launched its National Development Programme for Public Rail Infrastructure. This encompasses a wide range of projects from resignalling, double-tracking and electrification of existing routes, which will be upgraded for 160 km/h where possible, to the construction of new high capacity lines designed for 250 km/h.
Under-Secretary Igor Princic explained to members of the UK's Railway Study Association in July that Slovenia lies at the intersection of two important pan-European corridors, including 395 km of Corridor V (Sezana/Koper - Hodoš) and 295 km of Corridor X (Jesenice/Šentilj - Dobova). As a result, the ministry is an active participant in the international working parties for ERTMS Corridor D (Valencia - Budapest) and EU Priority Project 6 (Lyon - Trieste - Ljubljana - Budapest - Ukrainian border).
The ministry's strategic priority is to raise speeds and capacity on the so-called Slovenian Railway Cross, although Ndppri does include modernisation work on some regional lines as well. The five development corridors include the busy trunk route from Ljubljana to Divaca, Koper and the Italian border, the line running northwest to the Austrian border at Jesenice, the route from the capital to Dobova on the border with Croatia, plus the line running north from Zidani Most to Maribor and Graz in Austria, and the eastern branch to Hodoš and Budapest in Hungary.
Dependent on the formal adoption of Ndppri by the Slovenian government and the availability of funding, the projects are to be completed over the next 15 years at an estimated total cost of around €9bn. This is the equivalent of €300 per person per year for the country's entire population.
Princic conceded that the ministry did not expect to get parliamentary approval of the whole package 'without establishing where the money will come from'. However, work has already started on some smaller upgrading schemes thanks to the provision of funding from the European Union.
Priority in Primorska
By far the biggest proportion of the investment is destined for the Primorska line running west from the capital towards the Adriatic, splitting at Divaca to reach the Italian border near Sezana and the busy port of Koper.
With the steeply-graded single-track branch to the port forming a serious bottleneck, work is already underway to increase capacity. A consortium including Thales began a €41·8m resignalling project in 2006 which is due to be completed by the end of this year. On top of this, the ministry has allocated €45m for improvements to the 27 km Divaca - Koper line in 2009-10, split into €35m for infrastructure and €10m for stations. Another €82·5m is envisaged for track improvements including some double-tracking in 2010-15.
EU Priority Project 6 envisages construction of a new double-track line between Divaca and Koper by 2015. In addition, the existing route between Divaca and the Italian city of Trieste is not seen as adequate for the longer term, and studies for a new line have been underway for some time. An intergovernmental working party reached agreement in July on the alignment for a direct connection from Trieste to the new Divaca - Koper line, of which around 80% would be in tunnel or on viaduct. The ministry has already started purchasing land, and construction is expected to get underway in 2012 with a budget of €800m.
Princic says the ministry would like to see the new line extended all the way from Divaca to Ljubljana to create a high-capacity corridor for international passenger and heavy freight trains, leaving the existing line for local traffic. This is provisionally costed at €1 642m, but would not start until after 2020. Meanwhile, work has recently started on upgrading the existing 80 km main line between Ljubljana and Sezana.
On the Zasavje main line between Ljubljana and the Croatian border, work is due to start on enhancement of the section from the major junction at Zidani Most to Dobova; this line was double-tracked during World War II, but now needs additional capacity. Reconstruction of Dobova station began last year and is due to be finished in 2009, but upgrading of the border inspection post to meet the EU's Schengen standards has already been completed.
The ministry would like to see the construction of a new freight bypass line around Ljubljana within the next decade, to relieve the busy junctions in the centre of the capital.
If traffic continues to grow in line with projections, the ministry envisages that a high capacity line will be needed between Ljubljana and Zidani Most in 2010-15. The €1 282m price tag reflects the fact that building a 250 km/h route through the tortuous Sava gorge will not be a simple job. The new line could be extended to Dobova after 2020, although no money has been allocated for this beyond the initial planning phase.
To Austria and Hungary
Capacity is also a major issue on the Gorenjska line running northwest from Ljubljana to Jesenice and the Austrian border, with increasing volumes of international freight having to be squeezed through the 71 km route, which is largely single track.
Work started earlier this year on upgrading works valued at €111m, which are to be completed by 2011. Double-tracking is envisaged for the longer term, with the 30 km first phase to Kranj scheduled for 2015-20, along with construction of a loop serving Ljubljana International Airport, which lies a short distance east of Brnik. The remainder of the line would be double-tracked after 2020.
On the Štajerska line heading towards Wien, extensive track renewals are underway on the Zidani Most - Celje - Pragersko section. This line is to be upgraded for 160 km/h operation in 2015-20, but otherwise needs little in the way of capacity enhancement. A tranche of €128m has been allocated for double-tracking the 15.4 km from Maribor to the border at Šentilj, which will also be upgraded from 120 to 160 km/h operation.
The fifth branch is the Prekmurje line from Pragersko to the Hungarian border at Hodoš, which has become an increasingly busy through route since the Murska Sobota - Hodoš line was reopened in May 2001. Planning began in 2006 for a major upgrading of this single-track route by 2013, including electrification throughout.
According to Princic, the Hungarian section of the line is already being wired at 25 kV 50 Hz, but the Slovenians plan to stick with the existing 3 kV DC and establish a changeover point at the border. The 77·9 km Pragersko - Murska Sobota section is to be upgraded for 160 km/h operation, with bypass tracks around Ljutomer and Murska Sobota planned for the longer term.