The Montenegro railway upgrade is the first in 40 years
Montenegro’s railway used to be one of its big accomplishments. It was the largest and most expensive infrastructure project in the former Yugoslav federation. But now it has fallen into decay. With the European Investment Bank’s help, the railway plans a comeback. Last year, the EIB approved a EUR 20 million loan to rehabilitate the line from Bar to the Serbian border. The loan will be combined with the first investment grant from EU funds and the Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF) in Montenegro. It will also contribute to the achievement of the Bank’s Resilience Initiative objectives.
Restarting a state-of-the-art network
When it opened in 1976, it was a state-of-the-art railway, as modern and comfortable as any other rail network in the world. It’s also one of the most beautiful trips in Europe, connecting Serbian capital Belgrade with Montenegro’s main seaport, Bar in the south-west.
The first train to make the 167 kilometers journey was the Blue Train, the luxury transport of then Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito, who entertained foreign dignitaries and royalty on board, including Queen Elizabeth II and the former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.
Constant under-funding left the railway with big problems, as early as the 1990s. A trip across the railway that once took seven hours now lasts nearly 11. The train has to slow down often because of poor tracks and infrastructure. The Montenegrin part of the railway has suffered extensively from lack of maintenance. The number of passengers dropped from a peak of almost 2 million in 1987 to 1.2 million in 2016. Freight decreased from almost 4 million tonnes to 1.4 million.
Montenegro railway upgrades into the future
That’s why the EU funds are so important.
“The grant is worth EUR 20 million, which means that almost 90% of the total EUR 45 million cost of the project is covered by the EU budget,”
says Dubravka Nègre, the EIB’s regional representative for the Western Balkans.
The loans and grants are intended to prepare Montenegro for EU membership. As Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner for enlargement, said in a visit to Montenegro in February, “The aim is to support Western Balkan countries. The EU invests in the development of future members.”
A sight to behold, a struggle to maintain
The Montenegrin railway is famous for its scenic route that winds through the picturesque Morača River Canyon. The line has the highest railway bridge in Europe, the Mala Rijeka Viaduct. This was the highest railway bridge in the world, until it was surpassed by a Chinese bridge in 2001.
About one-third of the Montenegrin part of the line is in a tunnel or on a viaduct, which makes the route one of the most difficult in Europe to maintain. The repairs and upgrades will not be easy.
A train to the EU
The project will create 1.000 jobs in Montenegro during the repairs. It also will improve trade links, primarily with Serbia and Romania, and help tourism. The new railway will help the expansion of Bar harbor, which expects trade to increase from the current 1.2 million tonnes to over 2 million tonnes in the coming years, Nègre says.
“By investing in the improvement of railway connections, we contribute to safer, cleaner and faster transport links that will connect the people of this country with their neighbors and the European Union.”,
When it opened in 1976, the Montenegro railway was state-of-the-art, as modern and comfortable as any other rail network in the world. Constant under-funding left it with big problems. But with our help, the railway plans a comeback. https://t.co/9ENSQHxAwO pic.twitter.com/mMhPapg7RM
— EIB – the EU bank (@EIB) 23. travnja 2018.
We hope that Montenegrin railway system shall return on the right track. It’s image of attractive railway was shown in movie. In James Bond: Casino Royale movie, Daniel Craig as a James Bond arrived to mission in Montenegro by train. Let’s recall those scenes: