Railways in the Western Balkans are well on their way to adapting to the EU’s rail network and pan-European corridors, and market opening, governance and interoperability remain a priority for the region, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) Vice President Jurgen Richterink said today.

In an interview with Euractive and Beta ahead of the Western Balkans Railway Summit in Belgrade on Monday, Richterink said the EBRD would continue to work with state railways, private investors and clients and governments in the region to make those priorities a reality.

“The EBRD has ambitious plans in the region to improve service quality and speed across the rail network while extending the Trans-European Transport Network in line with EU standards, further strengthening project preparation and implementation capacity accordingly, improving management as well as safety and maintenance,” said Rigterink.

He reminded that railways are an ecological, sustainable, innovative, safe and efficient means of transport, but that they have “suffered for years due to the seemingly unstoppable triumph of cars, which led to insufficient investment and abandonment of once well-established railway connections”.

“Now the situation has turned around. Now is the time to invest in the railway in order to bring Europe and its region (Western Balkans) closer in a way that also solves the environmental challenges of our time,” Rigterink pointed out.

According to him, this is an opportunity not to be missed, especially for the countries of the Western Balkans, for which integration remains at the top of the agenda.

“The EBRD and its partner institutions, the EU and the European Investment Bank (EIB), provide well-structured financing and support for implementing investments in line with best international standards and practices,” Rigterink said.

As for Serbia, he said that the EBRD has so far invested a total of 564 million euros in its railway sector in infrastructure and rolling stock, adding that supporting “physical” investments is only part of the job.

“Through investment projects, the EBRD also supports the necessary reforms of the railway sector with the aim of strengthening corporate governance, implementing higher procurement standards and environmental and social standards, gender inclusion and youth inclusion,” Rigterink said.

Regarding the EBRD’s plans for railways in Serbia, he said that it is one of the most important projects that will support the reconstruction of the Belgrade-Nish section.

“In close cooperation with the EIB and the EU, through the Western Balkans Investment Fund, we are working to renovate and upgrade this key railway section on Pan-European Corridor 10 with the aim of increasing train speeds to 200 kilometers per hour while improving the quality of passenger and freight rail services. “Rigterink said.

When completed, Corridor 10 will connect western Austria and northern Greece, significantly strengthening European integration along the entire route, the EBRD vice president added.

The Western Balkans Railway Summit 2021 is organized by the Permanent Secretariat of the Transport Community, the EIB and the EBRD, under the auspices of the Serbian Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure.

The summit will bring together transport ministers from the region and EU member states bordering the Western Balkans, representatives of the European Commission and professionals from the railway sector.

The goal of the meeting, at which the declaration “Commitment to Railways” will be signed, is to improve regional and European transport policy, as well as to contribute to safer, better connected and sustainable railway transport.

The holding of the Summit coincides with the arrival in Belgrade of the Connecting Europe Express train, whose five-week trip along the continent will mark the European Year of Railways.

Regarding further engagement in Serbia, the EBRD Vice President said that the key areas for support would continue to be improving access to finance and know-how for small and medium-sized enterprises.

“We will work on promoting investments in renewable sources, improving energy efficiency in public and residential buildings, introducing ‘smart’ metering of electricity consumption and further modernization of railway and road infrastructure and operations,” Richterink told Euractive Serbia and Beta.

By Editor