Sofia, Bulgaria (PortSEurope) October 19, 2021 – After years of neglect and inactivity, the transport ministers of Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Albania – Hristo Alexiev, Belinda Baluku and Blagoy Bochvarski – have signed a Memorandum of Cooperation on Sustainable Infrastructure along the European Corridor VIII (Corridor 8) – the least developed segment of the pan-European integrated transport network. It is only a very small step
in a project for a multi‐modal transport system along the East‐West axis comprising sea and river ports, roads and railways, airports and multi‐modal ports. It will include some 1,270 km of railways and 960 km of roads. Corridor VIII The main alignment of Corridor VIII runs from the southern Italian ports of Bari and Brindisi, with a ferry crossing the Adriatic Sea to the Albanian ports of Durres and Vlora. It then passes through the capital cities of Albania (Tirana), North Macedonia (Skopje), Bulgaria (Sofia), via Bulgaria’s second largest town of Plovdiv, to the Bulgarian Black Sea ports of Burgas and Varna. Corridor VIII connects the Italian Adriatic Transport Corridor, the Adriatic branch of Motorway of the Sea and the Mediterranean Transport Area to the Black Sea Pan‐European Transport Areas. Delays & Cooperation The long delay in the opening of Corridor VIII has hampered a direct and convenient connection between the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea at the expense of north-south trade routes through Greece and Serbia. Northern Macedonia has acknowledged that the relationship with Serbia has been given much more importance over the years, but there has been also criticism about the Bulgaria’s lack of action for years on the advancement of the corridor. The timing of the signing of the memorandum is important considering efforts in the background to resolve the disputes between Bulgaria and Northern Macedonia. The blockade imposed by Sofia on Skopje’s start of negotiations for joining the European Union (EU) has also shed light on a lack of co-operation in a number of key sectors, from the economy and transport to culture. “We will consider it a joint project together with the entire infrastructure – port, rail and road, terminal, which over time will operate with uniform parameters and provide very good transport connectivity, efficient transport service and connectivity between the Adriatic and the Black Sea, and all cities and economic regions along the corridor,” Bulgaria’s Alexiev was quoted as saying. He claimed that Bulgaria is starting construction of the missing railway connections along the corridor. The tender for the section Pernik-Radomir will be launched next week, and the tender for the connection Radomir-Gueshevo is currently under preparation and will be announced next year. These projects are also set as priorities in the new EU operational program “Transport Connectivity”. The main task for Bulgaria on Corridor VIII is the connection Sofia-Pernik-Radomir-Gueshevo and the tunnel on the border between Bulgaria and North Macedonia. The tender for the construction of the railway and the signalization on the route Sofia-Radomir will be announced next week. For Northern Macedonia, the focus will be on building and completing connections to the borders with Bulgaria and Albania. According to Bochvarski, the investment planned by Northern Macedonia only for the railway infrastructure along the corridor is over €1 billion. He expects that by the end of 2021 the procedure for the first two lots of the railway connection with Bulgaria will be launched. Construction is to start in 2022 and will require investments of €200 million ($232.6 million). The third lot, from Kriva Palanka to the border with Bulgaria, will most probably be realised together with the Bulgarian side. For Albania, the most important element of Corridor VIII is the renovation of the Tirana-Durres railway line and new railway connections to Mother Teresa International Airport and the border with Northern Macedonia. The main cities on Corridor VIII are: Bari/Brindisi-Otranto/Strait of Otranto – Durres/Vlora-Tirana-Elbasan-Cafasan-Struga-Kichevo-Gostivar-Tetovo-Skopje-Kumanovo-Kriva Palanka-Sofia-Plovdiv-Burgas/Varna. The corridor is intermodal and includes ports, roads, railways, airports, combined and intermodal transport infrastructures – ancillary facilities needed to manage traffic on the route. The direction of the corridor guarantees its interaction with three other pan-European transport corridors. In Bulgaria it intersects or connects directly with the routes of corridors 4, 9 and 10. The total length of the Pan-European Transport Corridor VIII is between 1220 and 1350 km, depending on the specific features of its road and rail routes. 631 km of roads pass through Bulgaria, and the built railway part is 747 km. About 52% of the road infrastructure and over 55% of the railway infrastructure of the corridor are on Bulgarian territory. They are built and operational. The only undeveloped Bulgarian section of the corridor is the railway line from Gueshevo station to the Bulgarian-Macedonian border, with a length of about 2.5 km, for which negotiations have been underway for almost 20 years. The reconstruction works in Bulgaria for the key railway element of corridor VIII that started in 2007 has achieved until today only symbolic progress. Less than 20 km of railway in this corridor was rehabilitated in the past seven years. It will most probably not be finished until 2027, despite securing finance and the fact that 2021 was declared by the European Commission (EC) as “the year of rail transport”. The railway line in Albania is not even designed yet. The route from Sofia to the border with Northern Macedonia is also progressing slowly and painfully. There have been disputes with local citizens, technical mistakes and mismanagement in Bulgaria – a country plagued by corruption and inefficiency. The 72 km railway from the city of Radomir to the border with North Macedonia will be the real challenge. It passes through a mountainous area with protected zones. The construction of 13 tunnels is planned, the longest of which is 15 km (the longest operating railway tunnel in Bulgaria today is 5.8 km). The cost for these 72 km is estimated at BGN 900 million (€460 million). But it is not clear when the construction of this section will begin. On the North Macedonia’s site, a public tender for the selection of contractors for the 34 km section between Belyakovtse and Kriva Palanka is to be launched. Its cost estimate is €145 million and includes the construction of 50 bridges and 24 tunnels. The most expensive and difficult is the last shortest 24 km section from Kriva Palanka to the Bulgarian border with 100 small bridges and 40 small tunnels. The expectations of the local experts are that the ports on the Adriatic and Black Seas will not be connected with a modern railway line along Corridor VIII for at least 30 more years. Bulgaria is estimated to be losing some €500 million of business a year due to the absence of these connections. Copyright (C) PortSEurope. All Rights Reserved. 2021.