ALTHOUGH the rail freight sector was hit hardest by Romania’s economic changes, CFR Marfa has now started the long climb back. In 2000 it handled 13·6% more traffic than the low point in 1999. This represented 19·7% of the national freight tonnage lifted and 41% by tonne-km.

Director General Vasile Tulbure says profits have been increasing ’to the point where we can also fund our own investment too.’ Whilst he recognises that this reflects growth in the national economy, ’there has been some commercial adaptation so we are more prepared to move all this traffic.’

CFR Marfa operates through a localised structure, with its eight regional branches having a high degree of autonomy. They have their own allocations of locomotives and wagons, and their own commercial teams in touch with local customers. A general traffic office at the Bucuresti headquarters co-ordinates inter-regional business.

At present the majority of rail freight is domestic, but international business accounts for 25% of tonne-km and is seen as a potential growth area. Tulbure points out that Romania’s geographical position is well-placed to attract transit traffic between Europe and Central Asia, and he sees the country’s move towards joining the European Union as ’a very constructive step’.

As well as offering ’very attractive’ tariffs for international traffic, CFR Marfa is investing in expansion of its intermodal business. New piggyback services and improvements to container handling (above right) have been introduced, with 60 RoLa wagons entering service during 2000. CFR Marfa already operates two train ferries on routes from Constanta to three ports in Turkey and to Poti in Georgia. A new route to Batomi in Georgia is being established under the Traceca programme to improve rail corridors between Europe and Central Asia.

As yet Tulbure has no plans for international joint ventures with other operators; ’we have only the usual commercial relationships with our neighbour railways.’ However, a trilateral accord was signed with the railways of Moldova and Georgia in 1999, and CFR Marfa is backing a project to install standard-gauge tracks at Poti to speed up the turnaround of the train ferries.

Funding refurbishment

CFR Marfa’s principal investment over the next decade will be focused on rolling stock renewal. With an average age of 26 years for its loco fleet, the company is developing a two-stage programme of refurbishment and replacement. Around 100 electric locos will be refurbished, together with many of the diesel shunters, which should give them a further 17 years of life.

Starting in 2005, the company plans to purchase 10 new diesel locos a year. These will be a modern Bo-Bo design with IGBT converters and three-phase drives, rated at 2200hp and suitable for operation at up to 140 km/h. Funding for this will be raised internally as existing international loans are paid off. Total cost for the next 10 years is put at US$20m for refurbishment and US$78m for the new locos.

Over the same period, the wagon fleet will be cut from 63800 to 45300, although traffic is forecast to rise by 15 to 20%. Around US$555m will be invested to refurbish or convert 16000 existing vehicles and purchase 2450. In 2000, CFR Marfa invested US$25m on 310 new wagons and a pilot computer-assisted operations management system to be tested in Brasov.