Passenger rail service gets closer to city center, but problems remain

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 29, 2015 09:36

Passenger rail service gets closer to city center, but problems remain

Story Highlights

  • Tirana has a new temporary passenger rail station, but low speeds, decrepit infrastructure means few use the service.

Related Articles

TIRANA, May 28 – Almost two years after the closure of the communist-era downtown train station to pave the way to the construction of a new boulevard, authorities have set up a new new temporary station to serve the capital.

The new station is located in the suburb of Kashar, however, 10 kilometers away from the city center, making it less appealing to downtown dwellers.

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony this week, Transport Minister Edmond Haxhinasto said the closure of the train station in Tirana in late 2013 had reduced the number of passengers by 50 percent.

“Rebuilding the Tirana train station is a necessity because the capital’s station must be as close to the city center as possible,” said Haxhinasto.

The inauguration was part of a series of last-minute projects political leaders of all colors are trying to squeeze in ahead of the local administrative elections.

Several train carriages have been already upgraded with modest funds from the state-run railway directorate which depends on government support to handle its operations.

The old station was demolished in late 2013 to built a new boulevard, but its construction has been suspended.

Tirana Mayor Lulzim Basha, who is also Albania’s opposition leader, said a political dispute between the municipality and the government was to blame for the suspension of work.

The situation has considerably increased travel costs for passengers to Tirana, especially students travelling every day from the port city of Durres to Tirana.

Albania would have already had a modern railway network in Tirana and Durres had it not unilaterally cancelled a contract with U.S giant General Electric back in 2005.

In March 2010, the Albanian government was fined USD 20 million over the unilateral annulment of a 2003 contract, worth Euro 74 million with General Electric. The project cancelled in 2005 was aimed at modernizing the Tirana-Durres railway segment, known also as the electric train, which would have been linked with Mother Theresa International Airport.

Albania’s rail transport suffered another blow in 2013 when both handling of passengers and goods hit record lows, unveiling the critical situation of the railway sector which lacks adequate infrastructure.

Data published by the country’s Institute of Transport show only around 329,000 people traveled by train during the whole of 2013, down from 448,000 in 2012.

The closure of the Tirana train station had made the Albanian capital one among very few counterparts few capitals without rail transport. It also influenced highway traffic as passengers have been forced to get off in Vora, a town 15 km outside Tirana, since September 2013.

Albania currently has an international railway connection with neighboring Montenegro, but there is no passenger traffic on it. Highway construction has also halted operations on the scenic Durres – Pogradec line.

Meanwhile, rail transport of goods slightly recovered to 150,469 tonnes in 2013, up from 142,354 tonnes in 2012, but was down from 317,000 in 2011 and around 402,000 tonnes in 2010.

International rail transport also dropped to 98,608 tonnes in 2013, down from 135,959 tonnes in 2012 and 228,809 in 2011.

A recent World Bank report has ranked the state-owned Albanian railways as the poorest in Southeast Europe as far as traffic density and productivity is concerned.

The low level of traffic reflects few passenger trains per day, with distances between stations of 17 km to 50 km. The underlying reasons for declining passenger numbers also include long-travel times, unreliability of services, and uncomfortable coaches.

London-based EBRD has been approached by the Albanian government to lead a technical cooperation project aimed at revitalizing Albanian railways, currently in a poor condition and used very little for passenger transport.

The EBRD will carry out a design of the key Durres-Tirana railway line, as the most efficient in passenger transport, and the financial/economic appraisal of the whole Albanian railway network.

A version of this article appeared in the May 29 print edition. 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 29, 2015 09:36