Albania secures €90 mln in funding to rehabilitate key Tirana-Durres railway segment

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 10, 2018 10:09

Albania secures €90 mln in funding to rehabilitate key Tirana-Durres railway segment

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  • "It will only take 12 minutes to travel from the Tirana city center to the airport and 22 minutes from Tirana city center to Durres," says Albania’s Transport Minister Damian Gjiknuri

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TIRANA, May 10 – Albania has secured financing to rehabilitate its key Tirana-Durres railway segment and link it to the country’s sole international airport in a project that will revitalize the country’s degrading railway system that has almost seen no investment at all during the past quarter of a century following the collapse of the communist regime.

The project is expected to considerably improve transportation links between the country’s two largest cities, home to about 1 million residents, and serve as a faster alternative to current road transportation. In addition, a new 7.4 km-long rail link will connect both cities to Rinas International Airport.

Albania’s Infrastructure Minister Damian Gjiknuri says the new railway segment will improve the quality of travelling and create new jobs both during its construction and operation stage.

“It will only take 12 minutes to travel from the Tirana city center to the airport and 22 minutes from Tirana city center to Durres,” Gjiknuri said this week after a loan agreement ‘ceremony with EU and EBRD officials.

The €90 million project is financed by the European Union through Western Balkans Investment Framework grants of €35.5 million, a €37 million by London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Albanian government financing of about €16 million.

The government has already launched an international pre-qualification tender to select a company that will build the new segment. Construction is expected to be completed in two and a half years once the contract with the winning company is signed.

The project involves the rehabilitation of the existing railway line between Tirana and Durres with an approximate length of 34.17 km and the construction of a new rail link approximately 7 km in length to connect with Tirana International Airport.

Minister Gjiknuri says Albania is also working to rehabilitate rail segments linking Albania to Montenegro, the country’s sole operational international rail link, and examine opportunities to connect to neighboring Greece and Macedonia, hopefully benefiting from EU funds supporting connectivity in the region.

Albania’s state-run railway transport has been constantly degrading in the past two decades with both passenger and freight transportation on a constant downward trend, and costing Albanian taxpayers millions of euros due to rising losses.

Only a mere 66,000 passengers chose to travel by train in 2017, down from 189,000 in 2015 and about 4 million in the early 1990s soon after the collapse of the communist regime which banned private ownership of cars and when public trains and buses were the key mode of transport, according to state statistical institute, INSTAT.

Rail freight transport, mainly carried out only through Montenegro, recovered to about 150,000 metric tons in 2017 after hitting a record low of only 76,000 metric tons in 2016, eight times less compared to the early 1990s.

The demolition of the landmark downtown Tirana train station, which will finally be back under the new rehabilitation project, has also contributed to the sharp decline in passenger numbers in the past four years.

The downtown station first opened in the late 1940s under communism but was demolished in late 2013 to pave the way for the construction of a new boulevard, leading to a sharp cut in the number of rail passengers after the train station was transferred to Kashar, some 10 kilometers away from the city center, turning unappealing to downtown commuters.

The state-run Albanian railways posted losses of 712.7 million lek (€5.27 mln) in 2016, up 32 percent compared to 2015 as both passenger and freight transports more than halved.

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 $20 million by an arbitration court over the unilateral annulment of a 2003 contract, worth €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 the Mother Theresa International Airport.

The Albanian Railways employs about 1,100 people, but its fleet has been reduced to only 34 passenger carriages and 360 wagons in the past few years.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 10, 2018 10:09