Фото: Бојан Блажевски

One of the primary and instant solutions to ease the pressure from the “concretization” of the central areas of metropolitan cities in the developed countries is the development of fast, cheap, high-capacity and safe means of mass transportation of people from the city centers toward the suburban areas and vice versa. Due to the high speed of movement, the large number of seats and the subsidized cheap tickets, the developed big cities largely rely on the urban railway solutions.

The idea to introduce urban railway in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, had been first proposed around 4 decades ago. It came up after the major oil crisis in Yugoslavia in 1982, with the hope that trains between the suburban settlements and the new central railway station will be able to compensate for the rapid growth of passengers in the public transportation that arose with fuel shortages.

The three planned railway lines of the urban railway in Skopje with the stations planned in 1982; Source: Printscreen from a Radio-Television Network Skopje’s TV show “Stop” from 1982

Several decades later, the idea of introducing urban railway in Skopje was mentioned again in the current government’s Program, which stipulates a pilot project for urban railway line Zelenikovo-Drachevo-Lisiche-Pintija-11 Oktomvri – Transportation Center (Central Railway and Bus Station), then a new railway track from Ilinden to the Skopje International Airport, which will connect it to the Transportation Center (The Central Railway and Bus Station), as well as the preparation of a project for the electrification of the railway track from the Central Railway and Bus Station through Skopje Sever, Gjorche Petrov and Volkovo to Blace.

The government stated for Meta.mk that it has been working to fullfill its promises. Regarding the idea for an airport train, the Director of the Public Enterprise for RNM’s Railway Infrastructure, Hari Lokvenec, in February this year, in the Morning Briefing on Slobodna TV, said that the PE is working on a conceptual design for the new railway track to the Skopje International Airport and that its completion is expected in 2023.

Regarding the construction of the railway track from Miladinovci to Skopje International Airport Skopje, the PE Railway Infrastructure Skopje is currently negotiating with international financial institutions to secure the financial assets, said the Government of RNM for Meta.mk.

Also, the introduction of the urban railway line from Zelenikovo to the Transportation Center in the center of Skopje, the executive government stated that both state railway companies are making analyses regarding the necessary infrastructure, but also on the number of the trains needed for the traffic stipulated for the proposed new railway lines.

When a complete analysis, is made we shall announce all the details, explained briefly the Government of the RNM.

Regarding the development of the non-electrified northern railway line toward Gjorche Petrov, the executive authority stresses that last year a pre-feasibility study regarding the Skopje-Kichevo railway line was prepared, and the  possibility of electrifying this line in total was also taken into account.

 

Space planning in the Skopje Region with help from the railway

Pavel Veljanoski, an assistant professor at the Architecture and Design Faculty of American College University – Skopje, a co-founder and researcher of the Association for Territorial and Architectural Researches – Project LATA – Skopje, stated that in the mindset of the people today, the railway stations in the Skopje Region are located in the back of the settlements, on the periphery of the thickly populated localities and hidden behind bulky production and trade processes.

What lacks is the accessibility, the attractiveness of all of these locations in the city for the people in the areas where they appear, Veljanoski explains.

The access street to the Railway station Skopje Sever; Photo: Bojan Blaževski

Meta.mk has already published a photo story on the condition of the railway stations and stops in the Skopje Region, as they lie forgotten both by the institutions, that are supposed to provide people mobility and the possibilities of combined passenger transportation, and by the citizens themselves, who can’t use regular railway lines to travel throughout the city.

Veljanoski stresses that the railway infrastructure in Skopje has reached its zenith with the city’s renewal after the catastrophic earthquake in 1963. Then it was decided that the southern railway track, that ran from the former Central Railway Station (today’s Museum of Skopje) via the settlements of Kapishtec and Hrom to Gjorche Petrov, to be completely abolished. Between both offered alternatives for the development of the new railway infrastructure, the A plan was chosen. With it, the Transportation Center was built, together with the new northern railway track through the settlements of Zhelezara, Skopje Sever, up to Gjorce Petrov, to service both passenger and cargo railway traffic.

Railway stop in the Zhelezara settlement; Photo: Bojan Blaževski

Veljanoski explains that the process of industrialization back then was flourishing, together with the post-earthquake reconstruction of Skopje and the new northern railway track was constructed along a route that ran through sparsely populated areas. At the time it was considered that dismantling the southern railway track would decrease the noise of the trains in the settlements it ran through and will remove the barrier that could have appeared had this track been left in use. On the other hand, after the earthquake, the track was planned only for the transportation of raw materials (coal, iron, limestone) to the Skopje Steelworks from Western Macedonia (Oslomej and Kichevo).

The implementation of the urban railway lines would certainly intensify this type of transportation that would be attractive for most of the citizens living in the aforementioned settlements, but it would still be limited to the already existing network of tracks and stops, stresses Veljanoski, who also said that the opportunity lies in the geographical locations of the stops and their potential to contribute to the future development of the settlements.

Veljanoski also says that what is characteristic of the people in Skopje and the Skopje Region is the need and the habits of quick access, i.e. transport in the shortest route from point A to point B. The people are focused on individual transportation and it will not be easy to make a quick transition.

The Skopje region has at its disposal open railway tracks in the length of 95 km, whose exploitationy in 2015 was only 19.1% of the capacity, show the data provided by the PE for RNM’s Railroad Infrastructure.

Map of the railroad infrastructure intended for passenger traffic in Skopje; Source: Report on the railway system prepared for the United Nations; Doxiades – Consultaants for development and еxistix – Athens, Greece; Wilbur Smith – Engineers, Consultants – Columbia, USA; City of Skopje’s Institute of Urban Planning, 1965

All of this data shows that the railway infrastructure that Skopje has, at the moment isn’t serving the people living in the capital, which is facing an enormous density of the population in the central municipalities, traffic congestion and alarming levels of air pollution, especially during the winter.

Reviewing the current timetables of JSP – Skopje and RNM’s Railways-Transport, Meta.mk already wrote that with the urban railway, in today’s conditions, it would take 25 minutes to reach Zelenikovo by train, while it now takes 55 minutes to reach it by a public bus. It would take 25 minutes to go from the Transportation Center to Volkovo with urban train while by bus it takes 65 minutes. If we are talking about Miladinovci, then the urban train would get the passenger from the Transportation Center to there in half the time it takes the bus to get to the same destination.

Still, even the timetables show that the number of passenger trains toward these destinations is too small during a single day, unlike the JSP-Skopje’s busses.

Meta.mk sent questions to the municipalities of Zelenikovo, Ilinden and Gjorche Petrov, throughout which territories the current railroad lines are passing through. We received a reply only from the municipality of Gjorche Petrov, which stated it would intensify its communication with the central authorities when the actual preparation of the conceptual design project for the electrification of the railrway line from the Transportation Center through Zhelezara, Skopje Centar, Gjorchee Petrov, Volkovo to Blace will start.

The new Clinical Center of Skopje, on the location Vele Pole is planned to be built in Gjorche Petrov Municipality, and it will require necessary infrastructure, that will have to be built. The municipal authorities stated that the infrastructure for Vele Pole is built in accordance with the directions that the Government of the RNM is giving to the Gjorche Petrov Municipality. The local authorities are convinced that the introduction of the urban railway line would benefit the citizens in its municipality, but it will also mean an introduction of a new traffic culture and the habit of train commute.