EUR 8 Bln projects for carrying out the 2030 underground network plan

Interview with Gheorghe Udrişte – General Manager of Metrorex

This year, Bucharest underground transport company, Metrorex, has managed to launch projects that existed only on paper so far: development of the underground network, construction of the first park&ride in Romania, the acquisition of new underground trains, the implementation of programmes for increasing the quality of services and comfort.
The company’s General Manager, Gheorghe Udrişte, talks in an interview about the development of the projects already launched and future plans for developing this transport mode, the challenges imposed by these projects and the role of underground transport as “underground city”.

Railway Pro: The underground network is expected to measure around 140 km by 2030. What is the strategy of Metrorex for meeting this objective?

Gheorghe Udrişte: Over the next 30 years, Metrorex seeks to double the length of the underground network in Bucharest, the estimated amount , the moment when the strategy was elaborated, being of EUR 8.5 Billion and there are premises for the strategy to be implemented because the underground has lately proved that the underground is every day more attractive for passengers and has to become the main public transport mode in the Romanian Capital. A great deal of the efforts for the development of public transport in a city such as Bucharest has to be focused in this direction towards easing surface traffic and promoting the underground public transport. As I’ve already said, there are premises for that as the underground benefits from the support of the political class which is necessary for the allocation of funds for the development of the underground infrastructure and for guaranteeing contracted credits. Currently, we dispose of more than EUR 2 Billion for development projects and we also plan to contract a new loan from the European Investment Bank by the end of the year for covering the financial needs of Line 5 project. We will contract over EUR 900 Million for Universitate-Pantelimon line, money allocated both by the government and by EIB, who would grant EUR 465 Million. A very important piece of news is that we have the support of the government, of the Ministry of Transport, as well as the recommendation of the International Monetary Fund and of the World Bank for including Metrorex on the future list of the Sectoral Operational Programme – Transport 2014-2020 in order to benefit from EU financing.
Railway Pro: This year, Metrorex launched several projects on the development of Bucharest underground and for improving the quality of services. What projects will be continued in 2012 based on the financing your company relies on?

Gheorghe Udrişte: In real terms, we are talking about projects for which financing has already been ensured. We are talking about projects that will definitely have an impact on increasing the safety and comfort of passengers and which are currently underway: the modernisation of power supply installations in the underground stations (traction and auxiliary services), the installations of the elevators for passengers, the project consisting in the acquisition of new trains that will help us increase the quality of our services. Other projects to be continued in 2012 are those relate to the network development. We have already launched works for Line 5 (Drumul Taberei-Pantelimon), at the end of the year, we will hold the bids for structure and equipping works for the two stations on Line 4, Parc Bazilescu and Lacul Străuleşti, the budget financing, but also the investment grants of Metrorex being due to be directed to these projects. Also, we are working to the elaboration of the feasibility study for   Bragadiru-Voluntari line, for which the Urban Planning Committee of Bucharest Municipality has issued an approval in principle. We have signed a deal with a consortium of companies dealing with the elaboration of the feasibility study and we are hoping that it would be finalized in less than 6 months so we could forward it to the authorities for approval. If they give their approval, then we will pass to the identification of the private partnership, to the set up of the company that will deal with the project and to the actual implementation. This will be the first project for the construction of an underground line based on a public-private partnership with a company that wants to be part of the project. The private part will need elements that will facilitate the money recovery, as it has to rely on a solid financial plan and it will recover the investments from the ticket fares and from the different retail and advertising activities carried out inside the underground stations.
Moreover, we will also study the extension of Line 2 to Pipera by another 2 stations and Line 3, in Păcii area, to the Capital’s western ring where we would like to build 3, maybe even 4 stations. The latter is an important project for public transport and we plan to integrate it in the public transport system of Bucharest and its Metropolitan Area. We will deal with this project until the Metropolitan Area will become effective and we have already initiated works, we are conducting a study that will indicate the costs for reviving the line to be put in service, the stations need to be upgraded and we will have to develop the stop points so that passengers could be linked to taken over by surface transport up to underground terminals. We will definitely succeed in carrying out this project and we hope to get foreign financing.
Moreover, for the same purpose of
increasing the quality of transport services, we will also approach the modernisation of the charging system for underground access, as the existing one is obsolete and a major part of the system requires maintenance which boosts costs. We would like to upgrade the entire public transport charging system of Bucharest and of its metropolitan area. It is a complex project which demands the modernisation of the system and the path to fare integration for the Romanian Capital’s public transport.

Railway Pro: Until the moment, Line 5 project is the most important project for the citizens and for Metrorex. What are the challenges of such a project?

Gheorghe Udrişte: Line 5 project is the biggest investment project in Romania in the past 20 years and we have managed to initiate the implementation of the project which has received the approval for the technical-economic indicators ever since the ‘90s. There have been many attempts, but works are now underway and due in four years and we do not want to stop here. We are currently drafting the preliminary technical project for Eroilor-Piaţa Iancului and Piaţa Iancului-Pantelimon sections and the other preliminary technical projects for equipping the line. The new line project is for us a great challenge and we are hoping to finalize this project in the proposed terms. When the project will be completed, the area will be much more integrated in the urban landscape of Bucharest, there will be underground pedestrian passages and surface transport will be complementary to the underground transport. Although we have not yet completed the L5 project, we plan to expand the section to Valea Ialomiţei by another station to the middle of Brâncuşi district. Resources do exist and we need constructors to turn their experience into account to carry out these work professionally.

Railway Pro: The line to Lacul  Străuleşti is another major project. What is the current implementation phase of the project? Why did you choose this area for the construction of the park&ride system?

Gheorghe Udrişte: This is a very inte-resting and useful project, necessary to the integrated development of transport modes and since the government has already approved the extension of Line 4 from Parc Bazilescu to Lacul Străuleşti, we will develop, apart from the underground and the parking, a multimodal terminal from where the citizens can take the underground and where they will have a park&ride with a total capacity of 700 parking spaces. Those who use individual transportation will be able to leave their cars in the parking area and use the underground to reach any city area that the underground reaches. The location was not selected randomly. The choice was the consequence of the extension of the underground Line 4 whose line ends were in the area Laminorului-Piaţa Progresu, which knows a fast development, as there are demands from the local administration of Mogoşoaia and Buftea to permit the extension to these regions. For now, we will stop in the area of Lacul Străuleşti, which is the right location for such constructions and public transport utilities.

Railway Pro: In 2011-2014, Metrorex wants to renew the rolling stock fleet and plans purchasing 37 new underground trains. What are the financing sources for this project, since EIB has granted money for the acquisition of the 16 underground trains?

Gheorghe Udrişte: In the latest EIB financing contract, the funds are granted for the execution and put in service of Drumul Taberei-Eroilor line and this loan also includes the money necessary for the acquisition of the underground trains. There are two components: trains for L5 and for the fleet renewal. The 16 trains will replace the obsolete vehicles and this contract includes an extension option for another 8 underground trains. They should be delivered in one year’s time and the put in service will occur gradually starting with the end of 2012 up to 2013. We have a financing source and the new financing contract also stipulates the acquisition of new trains for the entire line Drumul Taberei – Pantelimon, a line served by at least 50 trains daily. Next spring we will prepare the tender documents for the acquisition of the next vehicles and equipments.
We want to implement the planned programmes step by step so that we would have everything we need at the end of the L5 project, from equipments to trains and staff training (we are talking about hundreds of employees and we are holding talks with several education institutions that will introduce special classes for underground transport workers).

Railway Pro: What is the role of the underground in changing the lifestyle of citizens by choosing public transport?

Gheorghe Udrişte: The role of the underground is extremely important for the citizens, as it is an eco-friendly, fast and safe means of transport. Of course that for choosing to use public transport, as big cities do, the authorities have to make citizens aware of its role and we, as public transport suppliers, have to make everything to persuade citizens to choose public transport by increasing the quality of services and transport reliability. The mindset and behaviour about public transport have to change and this is a task for all mobility decision ma-kers. It is a challenge for all and we have the opportunity to convince people to choose underground transport in particular and public transport in general. We want the public space of the underground to be as varied as possible and for this we have initiated projects with art institutions, theatres etc. which perform at the underground and they have taken the initiative for book launches, events, exhibition of paintings etc. We will also initiate projects with telephony companies to launch new communications services. There are many activities at the underground and we may even say that the underground is a second city. People begin to change their attitude about this means of transport in a good way.

Railway Pro: Bucharest Metropolitan Transport Authority will reunite public transport companies. What are the projects in plan to ensure an integrated transport?

Gheorghe Udrişte: Bucharest Metropolitan Transport Authority (AMTB) does not mean that public transport companies will merge, but is aimed at regulating the entire public transport service regarding the activities of the state-owned and private operators. It is about reuniting these operators under the same goals of providing an useful and efficient transport, transports should be complementary, not compete each other. The underground will have to be the main transport, while surface transport has to be complementary. For example, surface vehicles have to cover the areas with no access to the underground. AMTB has to determine the two operators to carry out their activity and provide quality ser-vices. Also, AMTB will have to become part of the charging system integration project in Bucharest. It is not common that a passenger should use two types of transport with two different charging systems and, especially, with different costs, because there are situations when passengers have to use both the underground and the surface transport. We will definitely come to a single charging system, but we will have to identify the best alternative to discover a fair and efficient method. Currently, we are weighing  all possibilities and we will support the Authority who will have to ma-
nage and coordinate the investments necessary for the development of an integrated transport. The companies are now facing difficulties in implementing their projects, but all these deficiencies will be eliminated as soon as the Authority will become effective.

Railway Pro: The European cities are more and more focused on the development of urban rail transport. How important are the political factor, the business segment and the citizens’ needs for the development of a city?

Gheorghe Udrişte: The political factor is one of the most important elements of the public transport. If there is no implication from the political factor, there will be no financing and without financing, projects cannot be implemented. In fact, we could not talk about projects. Everything goes like clockwork when there is political will. That is why the authorities should focus their attention on rail transport, especially since this means of transport is energy-effective, eco-friendly and safe and comfortable for the passengers. This is a fact in all European cities who are every day more aware of the importance of rail transport. I believe it is impossible to live without an electric public transport and  for this, we have to develop projects. For this to happen, we need urban development plans to be familiar with the authorities’ development programmes, to take into account the respective areas and to implement projects at the right time.
The city development does not have to be chaotic, but well-developed and urban projects have to complete each other. The management of the cities has to make urban plans available for operators so that they would know to develop their networks as we have to deliver transport services where needed.

[ by Pamela Luică ]
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