Railroad to Eastern Macedonia on blind track
Railroad to Kocani is in a disastrous condition. The average speed of the train is 35 km per hour. Ramps are not secured. The state has no plans for modernization
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Vlatko Dimitrov, returnee from Italy is sitting beside the railway station in Kocani and with his thoughts goes back a few years ago, when he travelled from Milan to Bologna every day for six months.
“The section from Milan to Bologna was 220 km and it took me 45 minutes by train. It was simply a delight to travel. The train was moving at a speed of 300 kilometers per hour. Although working on the port of Bologna I never thought of moving from Milan”, says Dimitrov.
Here, the situation is sad. From Kocani to Veles it is 70 kilometers and we travel for 2 hours. The train goes 35 km per hour. It is a disaster, adds Dimitrov.
A developed fast railroad would help young Aleksandar Petrov who works in Skopje and had to move from Stip for his job.
“If there were a fast railroad, I could get to Skopje in an hour and return in the afternoon, I would not have moved. I have colleagues from Veles who travel every day. But there the train takes 45 to 50 minutes”, says Petrov.
The poor condition of the railway in Eastern Macedonia is confirmed by the story of the famous Kocani cyclist Joze Jovanov.
“While studying in Skopje I used to give my suitcases to friends who went by train and at 3:15 pm we set off at the same time from the railway station in Skopje. I arrived in Kocani at 6:10 pm by bike and waited for them at the train station in Kocani”, says Jovanov.
Business also requires a quality railroad
A railroad is a country’s mirror. Judging by the railways in Eastern Macedonia, the region is on the European bottom and there are some African indicators as Macedonia is a country with the weakest development of railroads with only 27 kilometers of rails on an area of 1,000 square kilometers.
Country Length of railways per 1000 sq km Slovenia 60 kilometers Croatia 50 kilometers Serbia 44 kilometers Kosovo 40 kilometers Bulgaria 39 kilometers Albania 31 kilometers Macedonia 27 kilometers Eastern Macedonia 7 kilometers
Source: Inbox 7 analysis
For Stojce Samardziski, economic analyst from Stip, without developing the infrastructure there is no development of the region.
“Infrastructure in East Macedonia is from the socialism. It is necessary for any economy to develop railways. It offers cheaper transportation, cheaper conveyance of people and goods. After water, this is the cheapest transportation. We have no water and therefore must develop railways”, adds Samardziski.
Mining is the leading business in Eastern Macedonia. The transport of ore is significant item in the total cost of the mines. In former Yugoslavia, almost all ore was transported by rail, says a former manager in nonmetal mine Opalit from the village of Spancevo, Kocani.
Nikolajco Nikolov, deputy general director of the mine Bucim recalls these times.
“Bucim produces 38,000 tons of copper concentrate per year. It used to be driven to Bor, Serbia and the rail transport was most favorable. When the new owner came he signed a contract for processing copper concentrate with a Bulgarian company. We have no railway track to Bulgaria and have to transport by truck, so it is more expensive”, says Nikolov.
He added that transportation by rail is at least 10% cheaper than truck transport. On the other hand, ecological aspect should be taken into consideration.
The state announces investment in railways, but not in the East
The Government announces investments in the railways of 250 million Euros. In this promise the Minister of Finance Zoran Stavreski pointed the construction of the railroad to Bulgaria and reconstruction of the railway station in Skopje.
Recently the Government and the Chinese Corporation CSR have signed a contract for purchase of 6 trains worth 25 million Euros. According to Stavreski’s words they should be ready next summer.
But for the residents of East Macedonia this does not mean much because the railway track on which trains should be moving is in a desperate condition, says a traffic engineer who asked to remain anonymous.
“It is just like having a new car and drive it on a dirt road, where you cannot develop a speed exceeding 20 kilometers per hour”, says our source.
The director of Macedonian Railway Infrastructure Irfan Asani announces reconstruction and modernization of some sections.
“Through Component 3 of IPA program we are preparing two new projects for rehabilitation of the railway from Veles to Bitola and from Skopje to Kicevo. For the railway track to Kocani we are already planning some works, just have not defined a specific financial framework yet”, says Asani.
He could not say if and when the renovation of the railroad to Kocani will start.
Safety of the railway is at the lowest level
The safety of railroad in Eastern Macedonia is at the lowest level. To prevent accidents occurring, drivers are forced to slow down the speed of trains. From Veles to Kocani there are 40 road crossings on the rail from which 2 are provided with bumpers, light and sound signals, while the other 38 have just road signs. For greater security, the train stops at some crossings and waits for the cars to pass.
“This is outrageous, the train to stop for cars to pass”, says Vanco Manov from Stip.
The only good thing in the security domain is that the train commutes rarely, only once a day. If trains passed frequently, the probability of accidents to occur at unprotected crossings would be greater.
The reason for this situation is money, says Petar Spasovski, assistant director at Macedonian Railways Infrastructure.
“We have no financial means to purchase devices that cost 100,000 Euros to secure other road crossings. In the world municipalities finance if they want to raise safety”, says Spasovski.
He adds that under the Law on Railway System and the Law on Public Roads, the cost of maintaining the devices is borne by the railway infrastructure manager and the legal entity responsible for road maintenance.
So far the interest in maintaining is very small at municipalities. Of 37 municipalities where the rail crosses, only 4 have agreed to participate in financing security at railway crossings.
Editor: Stojanka Mitreska