A train takes us through conifer forests, along steep canyons and the rugged landscape of the Dinaric Alps. The mountains of Bosnia and Herzegovina are rich in resources – that’s why heavy industry developed here in Tito’s time.
Metal, steel and aluminium still depend on good railways to be exported north to European Union countries or to the Adriatic ports to reach destinations further afield.
The EBRD, with the EU and other partners, is helping improve roads and railways in Bosnia and Herzegovina – to the benefit of businesses and Bosnia’s citizens, too.
The EBRD has made an important contribution to achieve this goal and invested €101 million to modernise them since the early 2000s: building new tracks, reconstructing tunnels, installing new signalling systems.
The EIB co-finances the project and other partners actively support it. Japan, for example, provided funds to help rebuild the Jedrinje tunnel, while the European Union, Italy, United States and Canada supported the project’s planning stages.
The freight train business has been booming over the last decade. Many of the country’s largest companies are located along the route – exporters of iron ore, steel manufacturers, aluminium producers – benefitting from the strategic location between Western Europe, Turkey and other emerging markets.
“Before the tracks were changed, we could only run at 50 km/h,” said our train conductor, pointing a narrow point along a gorge between several tunnels. ”Now we can drive at 70, 80, some sections even at 90 km/h.”
It’s an important time-saver for the many freight trains that travel the route.
Nedim Hadziomerovic, deputy director of dairy company Milkos, knows how important good transport infrastructure is for Bosnian businesses.
“This farm produces milk of very high quality, which is particularly important for our yogurt, feta and fresh cheese,” he said on a visit to one of his suppliers, Nihad Bota. “We are licensed to export into the EU, so we need suppliers like this farmer.”
Trucks pick up the milk from a collection point. It is then processed and packaged in the Milkos factory, and finally distributed to Bosnian shops and exported internationally.
Mr Hadziomerovic depends on proper transport links to compete with foreign rivals – and so do the local farms and many Bosnian businesses.
“With our modern equipment, we can closely control the direct costs for our dairy products,” he said. “We cannot manage other variables such as transport unfortunately and it adds up if we have to pay our drivers for double the time that a journey should take.”
The vital transport artery for the country is Corridor Vc. It leads north to south, connecting some of the biggest cities (Sarajevo, Zenica and Mostar) to the EU.
The EBRD has also supported the construction of motorways on this route, which runs parallel to the railways. It has invested €205 million to date, complimented by EIB loans and support to prepare the project from the EU and Italy.
It’s now an easy 30-minute ride from Zenica, Bosnia’s fourth largest city, to the capital Sarajevo.
It used to take double or even triple the time, explained a woman while driving her car through a toll station.
“When you travel to the north to visit friends and family, this is very convenient,” she said.
Much of Bosnia’s infrastructure – roads, bridges, tunnels – was damaged during the war of the 1990s and the conflict’s legacy is visible throughout Sarajevo, with bullet holes still pockmarking buildings’ facades.
The infrastructure improvements do not only make the motorway network more efficient. It’s now much safer as well.
The Sarajevo-Zenica section has been finished since 2014 and the figures speak for themselves. While there were dozens of road fatalities in the past, the figure dropped to two last year.
The long-term benefits are significant. Better and safer transport links benefit both thousands of Bosnian citizens and businesses – and they will help set the country on the right track to a prosperous future.