Representatives at signing ceremony

Serbia and North Macedonia sign memorandum for high-speed railway

Representatives at signing ceremony Serbian Government

The transport ministers of Serbia and North Macedonia inked a memorandum of understanding on November 17 in Belgrade, solidifying their commitment to upgrade the rail network linking the country’s capitals Belgrade and Skopje to high-speed rail.

The agreement was formally signed by Goran Vesic, the Minister of Construction, Transport, and Infrastructure for Serbia, and Blagoj Bocvarski, North Macedonia’s Minister of Transport and Communication. Present at the signing ceremony were also Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic and her North Macedonian counterpart, Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski. This Memorandum outlines the collaborative efforts between the two nations to secure funding from the European Union for the joint venture of constructing a high-speed railway from Belgrade to Skopje via Niš.

The objective is to facilitate a significant increase in speed by modernising the existing line, aiming for a maximum of 200 kilometres per hour. With this enhanced velocity, the journey between Belgrade and Niš is anticipated to be reduced to a mere 1 hour and 15 minutes, starkly contrasting to the current travel duration of 5.5 hours. The comprehensive modernisation initiative is entrusted to SRI, a joint stock company established as the exclusive national railway infrastructure asset management entity in Serbia.

In a press release, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic expressed Serbia’s dedication to the development and enhancement of railway infrastructure, citing substantial investments in the sector. Highlighting completed milestones, she noted the successful establishment of a high-speed railway link between Belgrade and Novi Sad. Looking ahead, Brnabic outlined upcoming targets, anticipating the completion of the Novi Sad to Subotica section and the stretch from Belgrade to the Hungarian border by 2024. She also shared expectations that the Hungarian side would finalise its segment between Budapest and the Serbian border by the end of 2025.

Corridor X

North Macedonian Prime Minister Kovacevski emphasised that the planned railway line is expected to bolster transportation infrastructure and stimulate economic cooperation among the participating countries. In a similar vein, Serbian Prime Minister Brnabic highlighted that the exchange of goods between Serbia and North Macedonia surged to a historic high, reaching around 1.5 billion euros in the past year. The proposed railway is part of the larger project called Corridor X or Corridor 10, designed to establish a comprehensive transportation network connecting major cities such as Athens, Thessaloniki, Skopje, Nis, Belgrade, Zagreb, Ljubljana, and Salzburg.

Emphasising ongoing efforts in the modernization of Corridor 10, Brnabic underscored the commitment to upgrading the railway between Belgrade and Nis. She highlighted recent discussions on the Skopje section, culminating in the signing of the Memorandum of Cooperation, and outlined future plans, including the formation of a collaborative working group and the formulation of a clear action plan. Brnabic affirmed Serbia’s commitment to further investing in Corridor 10, extending to Skopje, and expressed the intent to engage with Greek partners for the development of the railway to Thessaloniki and Athens, a prospect she deemed “extremely important for Serbia.”

Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski echoed Brnabic’s sentiments, underlining the collective ambition to construct an entirely new high-speed railway along Corridor 10, connecting Skopje to Thessaloniki in Greece, and extending to Piraeus and Athens. Kovacevski specified a targeted commercial speed of at least 160 kilometres per hour for this envisioned railway. The initial phase of this extensive 50-kilometre rail project will prioritise the Skopje-Nis-Belgrade section, with an additional extension linking Skopje to Skopje International Airport.

European Rail Corridor 10 (Source: Wikimedia)

Funding

While certain segments of Corridor X have received financial backing from China and, historically, from Russia, the European Union is adopting a decisive role in funding the central section of the network. Reflecting the European Commission’s strategic perspective from several months ago, EU officials emphasise the paramount importance of advancing their enlargement policy effectively. In this context, the construction of vital infrastructure in the Western Balkans is deemed integral to the EU’s broader objectives.

Serbia is poised to secure a substantial loan amounting to 500 million euros from the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Having successfully navigated the ‘concept review’ phase, the loan is presently undergoing the ‘structure review’ process, as outlined by the EBRD. Pending the completion of this stage, and upon receiving the necessary approvals, the project is set to move forward. The looming deadline for approval is scheduled for November 30.

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Author: Emma Dailey

Emma Dailey is an editor at RailTech.com and RailTech.be.

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