Plans for high-speed rail in Bulgaria

high-speed rail in BulgariaLarge Infrastructure Projects (LIP), a private company based in Sofia, has presented a vision on high-speed rail in Bulgaria which is also connected to the neighboring countries Romania and Greece.

The company says that this strategy which would see a high-speed corridor between Athens, Thessaloniki, Sofia and Bucharest will transfer of the air transport towards railways and will develop the connection between the three countries as currently it is impossible to travel by train to Ruse, Bucharest, Thessaloniki and Athens.

In addition, the European Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean said recently that is “happy to see Athens, Sofia and Bucharest connected by a high-speed railway line,” during a meeting with the Prime Ministers of Bulgaria, Nikolai Denkov, of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and Romania, Marcel Ciolacu, held in Varna.

The vision is based on two main connections, one between Sofia and Thessaloniki and another one on Sofia – Varna route, with a branch to Ruse and Bucharest designed to allow speeds of 350 km/h which will bring effective competition to air and road transport, the General Manager of Large Infrastructure Projects, Roumen Markov, said during Railway Days Investment Summit held in Bucharest on October 17-18, 2023.

The double track Sofia –Thessaloniki high-speed rail will act as a land bridge between the two cities and will be part of the TEN-T Core Network through the Orient/East-Med corridor and RFC 7, shortening the travel time to 1 hour and 30 minutes, from almost 7 hours. The line is designed for mix traffic (passenger and freight services) accommodating 750-metre-long freight trains (allowing the transport of up to 116 TEUs) and the movement of P 400 semi-trailers loaded on wagons. In addition, the line will be equipped with ATO level GoA3 and subsequently GoA4 allowing the 5G FRMCS communication system. The line would start from Voluyak station, west of Sofia ending in Bulgaria at the cross-border with Greece, and from here it will run south to Thessaloniki. Bulgaria needs to build a new 192 km line while in Greece the new line will have a length of 78 km, out of which 11.7 km is a joint track with the high-speed railway line Thessaloniki – Kavala –Xanthi and 66 km are exclusively for the new railway line Sofia –Thessaloniki.

In total, Bulgaria and Greece need to build a 269.5 km new line, 34% of which needs to be constructed in tunnels, including a 1 km tunnel under the Belasitsa mountains, bridges and viaducts. In Bulgaria the line would have three new stations (in Sandanski, Petrich and Yavornitsa). The stations would embrace the design and amenities of the Austrian Tullnerfeld station. According to Roumen Markov, meetings and clarifications are needed to identify the route and stations in Greece with the Greek competent authorities.

The Sofia –Varna high-speed line with a branch to Ruse and Bucharest would shorten the travel time between Sofia Central Station and Varna by 135 km. In Bulgaria, the journey time between Sofia and Varna will be reduced by more than five hours to 2 hours from 7 hours and 35 minutes and from Sofia to Ruse by 5 hours, to one hour and 30 minutes from more than 6 hours.

This line which would consist of existing and new tracks will also allow freight traffic and would become the backbone of the railway system in northern Bulgaria.

From Sofia to Bucharest, the line will reduce travel time by almost eight hours, from 9 hours and 45 minutes to 2 hours.

The high-speed line between Sofia and Varna will also allow regional and freight rail traffic with freight trains with an axle load of 17 tonnes. The line will be connected to Varna Airport and the multimodal logistics centre in the outskirts of the city. In addition, the line will cross two important centres: Pavlikeni north through a new section from this line which will ensure connectivity between Gabrovo station and the high-speed railway line and the Central North Hub allowing fast train services on the Ruse – Central Central Northern Hub – Gorna Oryahovitsa – Veliko Tarnovo route.

Sofia – Varna high-speed line which will cross Ruse towards Bucharest will pass through St. Planina Mountain (which will be crossed by a tunnel under Murgash mountain) and Mezdra, which serves an essential rail connection between Sofia and north-western regions of Bulgaria.

The Ruse – Bucharest branch will use the new rail-road bridge over Danube River between Giurgiu (Romania) and Ruse (Bulgaria) with a new train station for passengers a Giurgiu East. From Giurgiu to Bucharest, there are analised two variants: one would cross Videle (70 km from Bucharest) and through Comana (37 km south of Bucharest) which will provide rail connection to the Progresul station (in Bucharest) connected to a future extension of metro Line 4.

For the Sofia – Thessaloniki and Sofia – Varna high-speed lines with a branch to Ruse/Bucharest, Large Infrastructure Projects completed a passenger and freight market research, studies on detailed comparison of route variants and speeds and route design, including the Giurgiu – Ruse road-rail bridge, as well as different studies covering train traffic and timetables and rolling stock.

Meetings have been organised with competent Bulgarian ministries and local authorities and a presentation has been held to competent authorities in Greece which will be followed by other discussions over the implementation of the projects.

According to the General Manager of Large Infrastructure Projects, these projects will be implemented through PPP and are expected to be completed in six years from signing of concession contracts, expecting the road-rail bridge over Danube, which will take 3.5 years to complete.

The vision to develop the high-speed rail in Bulgaria is based on the European Commission’s Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy which aims to double the high-speed rail traffic by 2030 and to triple it by 2050.


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