Boosting freight in Slovenia: five questions about the Divača – Koper railway
Slovenia kicked off its largest railway project. It is the Second Track line between Divača and Koper that will boost freight traffic on the country’s railway network. The project will also improve rail connectivity of the Port of Koper, Slovenia’s single maritime hub.
“We are at the point where we cannot and must not afford to return”, Jernej Vrtovec, Slovenia’s Minister of Infrastructure, described in such a way the start of the largest railway project in his country since gaining independence in 1991. This is about the construction of the second track on the Divača – Koper railway. Last week, on 5 May, the symbolical launching ceremony took place in the vicinity of Divača. On that day, an agreement with contractors was signed. What kind of project is it and why is it so important for Slovenia?
The Second Rail Track project is dedicated to the construction of a new single-track railway on the way from Divača to Koper in addition to the existing line (see the map below). It will have a length of 21.7 kilometres and will allow the freight trains to speed up to 120 kilometres per hour and the passenger trains up to 160 kilometres per hour. Despite the planned line will be constructed as a single-track railway, there will be also reserved enough space to deploy the second track in the future.
Both the existing and planes railways are located in the Karst Plateau, the rugged mountainous area in the southwestern part of Slovenia. As a result, three-quarters of the new railway route will run in tunnels. In total, the planned line will consist of eight tunnels (with a length of between 128 metres and more than 6.7 kilometres), two viaducts (452 and 647 metres long), two bridges (70 and 100 metres long) and one gallery (45 metres long). Besides the railway itself, the contractors will be obliged to constructing 20.6 kilometres of access roads to the sites.
Meanwhile, both lines have different routes. The existing Divača – Koper line runs via Prešnica and Hrastovlje while the new route will be constructed closer to the Italian border. It will run via Črni Kal and Zgornje Škofije. The new line will be so curvy and difficult for the freight trains running from the Port of Koper as the existing railway. For instance, 70 per cent of the current route from Koper to Divača is going up and only 8 per cent is horizontal. Moreover, the new line will have a maximum longitudinal gradient of 17 per mille while the old route has 26 per mille. The new railway will be also shorter compared to the existing line, which has a length of 31.5 kilometres.
During the mentioned official ceremony that took place on 5 May, there was also signed an agreement with the consortium of three constructing companies Kolektor CPG, Yapı Merkezi and Özaltin. They will provide the construction works on the Divača – Črni Kal section for more than 403.6 million euros (without VAT). It is the price of only one part of the line. The construction of the second section, between Črni Kal and Koper, costs around 224.8 million euros (without VAT), it will be provided by the same consortium. Meanwhile, the entire project requires much more money to be completed. At the end of 2017, the entire project was estimated at 1.047 billion euros (without VAT). This amount was slightly adjusted to 1.194 million euros.
As for investors, there are several funders of the project. The main one is, of course, Slovenia itself. It will finance almost half of the needed amount. 400 million euros will be funded by the Government of Slovenia via the budget subventions, 122 million euros will be allocated from the toll road payments and 6 million euros from track access charges. In February 2019, the European Investment Bank (EIB) financed 250 million euros. Another 250 million euros were allocated from the EU funds. 167 million euros will be granted by the commercial banks.
It is probably the most important question related to the Second Rail Track project. The answer on it could be found in the city of Koper, where Slovenia’s single port and the largest container terminal in the Northern Adriatic is located. Due to this, the new railway is vital for the future development of this port. The existing line was built in 1967 as a single-track serpentine in the Karst Plateau. Within the three last decades, the freight volumes in the Port of Koper is growing year by year. For instance, the Slovenian port handled more than 8.6 million tonnes in 1998, 16 million tonnes in 2008 and over 24 million tonnes in 2018, which was the record figure for the enterprise. Most of the freight, around 60 per cent, is being delivered to or from the maritime terminals by rail.
To meet this growth in freight traffic, Slovenian Railways (Slovenske železnice, SŽ) is upgrading the existing track. There were constructed the one-kilometre-long second track between Koper and Dekani. As a result, the maximum capacity of the route was increased to 90 trains per day, the vast majority of them are freight (according to the current timetable, there are six pairs of passenger trains running on weekdays). As of today, the railway works at maximum capacity with periodical delays. When the new line via Črni Kal and Zgornje Škofije will be built, the maximum capacity of the Divača – Koper line will increase to 231 trains per day. This will allow SŽ to transport up to 43.3 million tonnes of freight and, therefore, will boost freight traffic in the Port of Koper.
The last question is about the time frame. The Second Rail Track project has been discussed in Slovenia since 1990. In 2008 the final decision was approved. For a decade, there were no works on the future constructions sites. It was August 2018 when the preliminary works were launched on several locations. Last week a symbolical start of the construction took place. According to the schedule, the works must be completed in 2026. The mentioned year is expected to be a milestone when the first trains will run the new railway.
Meanwhile, two issues remain unclear. The first one is when the second track will be installed on the new line. Another question is the future of the existing Divača – Koper line (via Prešnica and Hrastovlje). It is to be hoped that the Government of Slovenia will tackle these issues.