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Railway Egnatia: The anatomy of the emerging rail “backbone” of Greece

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The most visionary project that will last (if it makes it to implementation) over a period of more than 15-20 years is undoubtedly Railway Egnatia. This project is really promising and has both strong supporters and adversaries.

Its supporters believe that the operation of the Railway Egnatia will provide a comparative advantage for the transports in Northern Greece and will become a through passage for goods from Turkey, the Middle East and the Balkans to the markets of Western Europe. It will even strengthen the country’s railway network and create new growth opportunities.

Its adversaries talk about a pharaonic project that is not commercial and will not “pay off” its money while operating competitively towards Egnatia Motorway, “stealing” a substantial portion of its traffic. Today we are going to take a first approach about this promising infrastructure. It is noted the project concerns a single track, electrified line with modern features, equipped with state-of-the-art signaling and telecommunication systems.

A line streching from the West to the East

The so-called “Eastern Railway Egnatia” consists of Ormenio-Alexandroupoli-Xanthi-Kavala-Thessaloniki corridor. The projects here will call for a transnational company (Greece-Bulgaria), which, as the implementing entity, will undertake the modernization of the line in both countries to the standards currently being implemented by Rail Baltica. The launch of the project is still distant, but the good news is that there is an active plan with the blessings of the European Union that sees it positively.

Beginning from the East, there is Ormenio-Alexandroupoli section, 176-km long. Here, the infrastructure has been renovated and electrification-signaling  systems’ installation is required for a section of 8 km. It is the most strategic section and along with the Bulgarian part to Burgas, it constitutes the famous Bosphorus Bypass, one of Europe’s most important commercial corridors. The cost has been estimated at 160mn euros.

Then, there is Alexandroupolis-Xanthi section, which is being fully renovated and upgraded with all required, modern systems. The third section concerns the new route between Xanthi-Kavala-Thessaloniki, which promises to shorten the trip by 3 hours, at speeds reaching up to 200km/h. It will be bypassing Xanthi-Drama-Serres-Thessaloniki section, which will continue to operate as a local line.

Studies carried out by OSE and ERGOSE are at a very advanced stage and their findings are expected to decide whether the project can be implemented or not. The cost is estimated at 1.75bn euros. From these, 1.5bn euros concern Thessaloniki-Kavala section (Port of Nea Karvali) and 250mn euros, Kavala-Xanthi section (Toxotes).

Passing into the Western section of Railway Egnatia, a new line from scratch will be required for the first section, making the project quite challenging from the very beginning. The existing section of Thessaloniki-Florina-Kozani makes a big curve and, in theory will not serve the purpose of the project. In case that a new line, between Thessaloniki,Veria and Kozani is opted for, new passages and tunnels will have to be created through Vermio mountain.

The second section is Kozani-Kalambaka that will be joining Railway Egnatia through its existing line that ends today in Kalambaka. The third section betweeen Kalampaka and Ioannina will be the most difficult. Here, the line has to pass from Pindos mount range and, based on the experience of Egnatia Motorway, we know that the technical challenges will be great but not unsurpassable. However, the cost is estimated at several billion euros.

Finally, there is the westernmost part of the axis, Ioannina-Igoumenitsa that will bring the train to the coastal city of Epirus region, which has become the third most important port of the country, mainly due to Egnatia Motorway. The length of the Western section is about 740 km, 127 km of which will be in tunnels and another 30 on bridges. The cost is estimated at 4bn euros

All of the above sections require design, studies and maturation. We are currently at a very early stage, and perhaps there is a great opportunity to use value engineering in order to reduce the costs significantly without downgrading the value of the project.

The vertical corridors

Railway Egnatia Railroad promises a solid connection with our Northern neighbors. In addition to the 3 existing gateways in Ormenio, Promachonas and Idomeni, the new project promises to establish new links: one with Albania and a second with FYROM.

Kristallopigi-Pogradec railway section has a total length of about 130 km within the Greek and Albanian territory and has been recognized as part of the “TEN-T, Connecting Europe” project, linking Florina, Kozani and Kozani Airport to the Albanian railway network. There is even an inactive railway line between Florina-Southern Caucasus-Border,s roughly 13 km long (connection with Monastiri-Bitola in FYROM).

Budget and value

The cost for the whole network is calculated approximately at 10bn euros, which sounds rather utopic to find within a reasonable timeframe. Neverthless. the difficulty to raise these admittedly huge funds, does not necessarily mean that the target is not feasible. The Eastern section has been largely activated already and what is needed to be done now is to invest money for studies concerning the Western section.

It may also seem to be an excessive investment today, but thinking forward, requires us to identify the needs of the future and the priorities we set regarding growth opportunities, in the same way we did when we decided to upgrade our motorway network entirely.

 

Nikos Karagiannis-ypodomes.com

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