The region commits to modernisation of rail and re-establishing intercity links
Building a modern, digitalised rail network, with direct express train connections between major cities in the region will help establish better connectivity and provide safer and environmentally sustainable mode of transport for people and businesses in the Western Balkans. This was recognised as key priority of the Dedication to Rail, signed today by ministers in charge of transport in the region at the 1st Western Balkans Rail Summit, held in Belgrade. The event was organised by the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and under the auspices the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure of Serbia.
The summit gathered ministers from the Western Balkans and neighboring countries, representatives of the European Commission and rail professionals for discussions on how to advance the regional and European transport policy and contribute to building a digitalised and sustainable rail transport systems in the region. The governments committed to a number of priorities including to rebuild direct intercity train links connecting the region and the EU, enhancing digitalisation of the railway systems to interconnect and exchange data for cross border passenger and freight transport, increasing safety of level crossings, as well as opening of the rail markets.
“I hope that the First Western Balkans Rail Summit will create momentum to influence positive change with focus on investments in rail transport, that will make rail travel attractive again for the citizens and business in the region. This can be done by focusing simultaneously on two tracks – adopting standards and building and improving infrastructure. It is encouraging to see that the summit brought together policy makers and representatives of financial institutions that can lead the change in positive direction. As one of the most environmentally friendly transport means, rail is responsible for a tiny fraction of transport-related greenhouse gas emissions and has huge potential to contribute to region’s economic prosperity,” Mr Matej Zakonjšek, Director of Transport Community Permanent Secretariat said.
“The EBRD supports the Western Balkans countries to green their economies with almost half of our investments channelled to projects that support the green agenda. As the world is turning to greener and more responsible modes of transport, and with finance available, now is the opportunity for the Western Balkans countries not to be missed to invest in their railways. Together with the EU and EIB, we are strongly committed to continue to provide well-structured and affordable finance for the development of railways as a sustainable, greener and safer means of transport in the Western Balkans,” Ms Nandita Parshad, Managing Director, Sustainable Infrastructure Group, EBRD said.
“The EIB is glad to support all initiatives that help accelerate modernisation of the railway in line with EU standards. Smarter, safer and digitalised railway across the region will help us address the environmental issues and enable shift to more sustainable transportation.
To achieve this, this sector requires unprecedented investments and technical expertise and the EIB looks forward to rolling out of the Economic and Investment Plan and helping our local partners in accessing the funds available. As a decade-long partner to the region and a lead financier of railway, the EIB invested close to €10 billion since 2009 alone, with more than €5 billion invested in the transportation sector to date.
The EIB is about to launch its new Transport Lending Policy, to address the existing challenges and enable transition to safe, accessible, green and efficient transportation of the future. And the region will be an integral part of this process”, Ms Lilyana Pavlova EIB Vice-President responsible for the Western Balkans said.
The summit was organised to coincide with the arrival of Connecting Europe Express train. As part of the European Year of Rail, the train, which will cross 26 countries of the continent, arrived in Belgrade on 12 September, from where it will continue its tour in the region.
The European Year of Rail is part of the EU’s efforts under the European Green Deal, the EU’s plan to make its economy sustainable by achieving climate neutrality by 2050. One of the key elements of the plan is to roll out cleaner and healthier means of transport, as the transport sector is currently responsible for about 25% of the Union’s greenhouse gas emissions. The European Green Deal seeks a 90% reduction in transport emissions by 2050. With only 0.4 % share of greenhouse gas emissions in total EU transport, rail emits far less CO2 than equivalent travel by road or air and is one of the most sustainable, innovative and safest transport modes in the EU. Comparing to the EU where 75% of total train-kilometers are travelled by electricity-powered trains, in the Western Balkans less than one third of rail tracks is electrified.