Currently, there are no railway connections between the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria. Although there have been discussions for a long time, the implementation of a project on the construction of a railway to connect the two countries has begun to fall into place with the recent announcement of the Macedonian Minister of Transport Mile Janakievski. According to him, “tender offers for the construction of a railway between Kumanovo and Beljakovce, a line that will mark the official launch of the cross-border project, will be opened at the middle of September”.
Moreover, a railway between the two capitals, Sofia and Skopje, would boost trade in the region.
Last year, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) agreed to supply to the Former Yugoslav Republic, more precisely to the Macedonian Railway Infrastructure Company, a loan of EUR 46.6 Million needed for the financing of the Kumanovo – Beljakovce line reconstruction which, at the same time, is the first phase of the comprehensive project consisting in the development of a direct Skopje – Sofia railway connection.
The loan is estimated at EUR 2.5 Million, money that Macedonia needs to initiate the second phase of the project, the extension of the above-mentioned line to the east from Beljakovce to Kriva Palanka. The documents necessary to the initiation of the tender for this section will be ready by the end of the year, Macedonian authorities say and total necessary funds could amount to EUR 145 Million. The third, the last and the most expensive phase includes the actual construction of the connection across the border with Bulgaria which will be linked to the Gyueshevo – Radomir line. The funds necessary to this phase were estimated at EUR 332 Million.
The entire section designed between the two neighbouring countries will be included in the pan-European Corridor VII and will provide a shorter railway connection to Macedonia to the Bulgarian ports of Varna and Burgas, from the Black Sea. If the line is finalized, the journey between the two capitals could last three to four hours.
The construction of the first section of this segment could be ready by 2017 and the other two sections could be finalized by 2022.
Macedonia sees the Black Sea region as a crucial geographical area primarily due to its significance in trade and energy routes. However, in the Macedonian case, the Black Sea region is seen in a narrow perspective regarding security issues, but in wider perspectives regarding economic and trade relations. Most freight and passenger traffic between the Macedonia and Bulgaria is transported by road. From a commercial point of view, Bulgaria is one of the fifths trading partners for Macedonia, and its business cooperation with these countries has increased in importance.
Investing in rail infrastructure is associated with lower total travel time, higher comfort and reliability, reduction in the probability of accidents, and in some cases the release of extra capacity which helps to alleviate congestion in other modes of transport. Cross-border cooperation between neighbouring authorities is intended to develop cross-border economic and social centres through joint strategies for sustainable territorial development. Improving the efficiency of transport and logistical flows will act as a catalyst for deeper EU–Macedonian integration, including Macedonian-Bulgarian transport connection.
Within the European and trans-continental framework Corridor VIII will play an important role for the transport communications among Southern Europe, Northern Africa, the Caspian Basin, Central Asia, Russia and Ukraine. Its strategic perspective lies in the linkage of significant sea-ports such as Varna, Bourgas, Poti, Batoumi, Novorossijsk, Ilichevsk and Odessa on the Black Sea, Dourres and Vlore on the Adriatic Sea, a linkage that facilitates the opportunities of servicing the markets of Central Asia, Russia and Ukraine, too.