EBRD and EU step up support for strategic transport projects in Western Balkans

By Volker Ahlemeyer

EBRD and EU step up support for strategic transport projects in Western Balkans

€123 million in EU grants and €190.5 million in EBRD loans to foster connectivity and regional integration

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Union (EU) and bilateral donors are further improving the transport connections in the Western Balkans that are crucial to the development of competitive, green and integrated economies in the region.

The EU is committing €123 million for major railways improvements in Albania, FYR Macedonia and Kosovo. These funds and the additional investments by the EBRD and other partners are expected to boost trade significantly both with the EU and within the region. At the same time, they will have a tangible positive impact on people’s lives through shorter journeys and increased rail safety.

The EBRD has made available €190.5 million in loans for these projects, which are also supported by further contributions from the three beneficiary governments, the European Investment Bank as well as other bilateral donors who pool their resources through the Western Balkans Investment Framework.

In Albania, the investments will help to modernise the rail line connecting the capital Tirana to Durres, where the country’s largest port is located. They will also provide the finance for a new rail line from Tirana’s Public Transport Terminal to the city’s Rinas international airport. The existing infrastructure is in urgent need of modernisation and its upgrade will allow trains to travel at almost double their current speed, significantly reducing travel times, as well as providing safe rail operations through a new modern signalling system.

In FYR Macedonia, a landmark railways project will lead to better connections to the Bulgarian border and improved access to the EU market. It consists of the construction of new rail lines and the improvement of existing ones, including railway bridges, tunnels, stations, under- and over-passes, modern signalling equipment and various additional elements. It will provide the eastern part of improved links along the route from Kumanovo to the border crossing of Deve Bair near the Bulgarian border. The section is part of a main transport artery, Corridor VIII, which is of strategic importance to landlocked FYR Macedonia as it provides both new trade opportunities for businesses and better travel connections for its citizens.

In Kosovo, the funds will improve railway transport between Fushe Kosove and Mitrovice, connecting the Pristina region better to the northern part of the country. The 35km-long section is part of Rail Route 10, the only operational railway line connecting Kosovo to the international network. It will therefore significantly increase regional connectivity.

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“These vital transport projects will bring tangible economic, social and environmental benefits to the Western Balkans,” says Charlotte Ruhe, the EBRD’s Managing Director, Central and South-Eastern Europe. “They will boost efficient and safe transportation of both freight and passengers to neighbouring countries and the EU market. At the same time, they will have a positive environmental impact by making the railway an attractive alternative to more polluting road transport.”

“Thanks to a European Union grant of €123 million channelled through the Western Balkans Investment Framework, almost triple the amount was leveraged in total investments for three key railway projects on the Mediterranean and Orient/East Med corridors,” states Genoveva Ruiz Calavera, Director, Western Balkans at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement (DG NEAR).

“These rehabilitated railways will enable faster and safer flow of people and cargo within Albania, Kosovo and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as well as with their neighbours and with the European Union. Such investments will ease people's travel in the region, create jobs, improve trade and have a positive impact on the broader economy in the Western Balkans.”

Since the start of its operations, the EBRD has invested almost €1 billion in some 80 projects in Albania, €1.6 billion in over 100 projects in FYR Macedonia and over €200 million in more than 50 projects in Kosovo.