European Commission’s criticism on the transportation sector of North Macedonia is almost identical as last year, i.e. the sector remains a problem that the government must overcome. The EC’s North Macedonia 2022 Report criticizes the same projects as the last year – the construction of the railroad line to Bulgaria, the Road Corridor 10-d from Gradsko to Prilep, the joint railroad border crossings, lack of personnel at the State Transportation Inspectorate and other inspection bodies in the transportation sector.
Regarding the branch D of the Road Corridor 10, the criticism referred to the postponed construction works for the new express road between Gradsko and Prilep. According to the initial announcement, the complete express road was supposed to be finished by the end of this year, but a two-year delay ocurred, as new contractors for the road sections between Drenovo and Farish and between Gradsko and Drenovo had to be selected. At the moment, the construction works are underway across the whole length of the future express road, but, however, the tendering procedures for the new contractors have prolonged the deadline.
There was a significant delay in the selection of contractors for the first and second phases of the construction of the railroad track to Bulgaria, as well as a delay in the tendering procedure for the realization of the Phase 3 of the Railway Corridor 8, the section between Kriva Palanka and Deve Bair. The Macedonian authorities will have no room for making any mistakes in the forthcoming period, because the European Commission states in its Report that these delays raise worries in regard of the EU funding.
Only a few days ago, the Director of the Public Enterprise for Railway Infrastructure RNM’s Railroads, Hari Lokvenec announced that on the 29th of October, the building of the first and second phases of the railroad towards Bulgaria will officially start – i.e, he section between Kumanovo and Kriva Palanka. During the summer the Austrian company “Strabag” and the Turkish company “Gulermak” were chosen as contractors for both phases of the construction of the Railway Corridor 8.
On the 7th of October, Lokvenec informed that both companies will start construction works on the 18th of October, but he also promised there will be no more obstacles for the construction of the railroad line from Kumanovo to Kriva Palanka. The financial assets for the railroad line are secured, the expropriation of the land is completed, there are no archaeological findings or locations across the roadbed, and the selected contractors’ quality and dedication are good, said Lokvenec.
“This means that by the end of 2025 we would finish both phases of the railroad line towards Bulgaria, starting from Kriva Palanka,” said the Director of the PE for Railroad Infrastructure.
Regarding the third phase of the section from Kriva Palanka to Deve Bair, Director Hari Lokvenec informed that the preparation of the tendering documentation is in its closing stage, which should be announced by the start of 2023. The selection of the contractor of the most complex phase should be closed by the end of next year when the start of the construction works should be announced.
“Taking into consideration that the planned time for construction works of that section is 4 years, it means that by the end of 2027, we would have a new railroad line towards Bulgaria,” said Lokvenec.
EU’s Report also criticizes the realization of the joint border crossings i.e. the easing of the procedures for passengers and goods crossing across the borders.
“The railway border-crossing agreement with Greece has not yet been adopted, while some actions have been taken to implement the remaining border-crossing protocol with Kosovo. Both are encouraged to be finalised without any further delay,” said the Report about the reforms advancement in the section about the joint border-crossings. The European Commission reminds that complete financing hasn’t been secured for the construction of the joint railway border crossing near Tabanovce.
Regarding the transportation sector, the EC’s Report stresses that the country is mildly ready, and during the reporting year of 2022, limited progress has been achieved concerning the reforms.
“Political dedication for completing necessary sector reforms is still lacking,” states the European Commission’s Report.
At the same time, three points were stressed as key issues that North Macedonia should meet in the forthcoming period. The first is the strengthening of the operational and administrative capacity of audit bodies and the development of the capacity for implementing the lowering of the number of casualties in the sector referring to road and railroad infrastructure. Stress is put to the need of forming a Road Security Agency, but also the strengthening of the capacities of the State Transportation Inspectorate.
Identically compared to the previous year, the EU’s second request is the implementation of a reform in the railroad sector i.e. opening of the market for other companies in railroad transportation to enter. The monopoly of the market is held by the Railroads of RNM – Transportation. The liberalization of railroad transportation was requested by the EU in the past several years.