North Macedonia starts €200m works on connection to Bulgarian border

NORTH MACEDONIA says it has started work on a nearly €200 million project that will include part refurbishment of an existing line and part completion of construction of a new line connecting to the country’s border with Bulgaria as part of the future European Corridor VIII established .

The 31 km Kumanovo – Beljakovce line will be rehabilitated for €40m, while a new 34 km Beljakovce – Kriva Palanka section will be built for €155m.

North Macedonia has received a nearly €200 million loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) for work on these two sections, and there has also been a €75 million grant from the European Union (EU).

The Kumanovo – Beljakovce overhaul will be carried out by the Austrian construction company Strabag and is expected to be completed in 2024, while the construction of the Beljakovce – Kriva Palanka section will be carried out by the Turkish company Gülermak, with completion expected in 2025. The projects include the construction of a single-track electrified line with 14 stations and 12 bridges, and the contracts for work on these two sections were awarded in August this year [link to August 26 2022 IRJ story]

There is a planned further 23.5km railway section linking Kriva Palanka with the Bulgarian border, which North Macedonia’s Transport Ministry says remains high on the government’s agenda, but the details of which have yet to be finalised.

“At this point, the infrastructure project has been approved and our teams are already working with teams from Bulgaria to develop the procedures for the shared station and tunnel,” says the Ministry of Transport. “We expect a public tender and the start of construction of the last section of the railway connection as early as next year, for which we already have 61 million euros from the “Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance” (IPA) program and 155 million euros at our disposal from the European Union’s Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF).”

European Corridor VIII is intended to be an east-west connection connecting the Albanian Adriatic port of Durres to the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Varna via North Macedonia. Other places along the route are Elbason in Albania, Skopje in North Macedonia, Pernik in western Bulgaria, Plovdiv in southern Bulgaria and Burgas on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast.

In 2021, North Macedonia, Bulgaria and Albania signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) on building sustainable infrastructure along Corridor VIII and committed to completing the remaining parts of the transport route by 2030 [Link to October 21, 2021 IRJ story].

“The start of construction works on the eastern sections of Railway Corridor VIII is a big step in the expansion and modernization of North Macedonia’s railway network,” says David Geer, Head of the EU Delegation in North Macedonia. “The project, implemented thanks to the support of Team Europe, will not only improve national connections, but also improve connectivity in the region and with the EU.

“This is a clear example that we work best when we work together. With more than €688 million allocated to Corridor VIII railway projects, the Economic and Investment Plan is proving to be a catalyst for development across the region, enhancing cross-border cooperation, facilitating regional trade and bringing great benefits to citizens and businesses on site and the environment.”

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