BDZ MAY TAKE ADVANTAGE OF BULGARIA'S STRATEGIC GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION
Under the Act on the Bulgarian State Railways (BDZ), enforced in the beginning of 2002, as of January 1 the monopoly was juristically divided into two independent companies - one, in charge of the transportation and one, in charge of the infrastructure. And while the dividing of BDZ's assets is still in its inital phase and according to pundits will continue for at least two years, the personnel has been already divided. One third of the staff is in the infrastructure enterprise, and two thirds remain in the transportation company.A week ago the credits, totaling USD140MN, intended for BDZ's rehabilitation (USD95Mn from the World Bank and USD45MN from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) were divided as well. The infrastructure company will be repaying 75% of the credits, earmarked for three projects (for equipment of the rails welding workshop, for setting up a loading and discharging info system and for improvement of the data network).The transportation company will be repaying 25% of the loans and should implement one project for the establishment of an info system for passengers.The infrastructure enterprise should cover by itself all its expenses and invest about BGN30MN under the Government's investment programme. At the same time, the transportation company will receive about BGN70MN in subsidies from the state budget as compansation to the decrease of some passenger fares. The USD140MN and the BGN70MN is just a portion of the possible external financing, intended for the railway companies. A lot of money, mainly for the infrastructure company is expected. The largest investment at present (exceeding EUR300MN) is the Plovdiv - Svilengrad project, intended to bring the railways' electrification in compliance with European standards.Considerable financing is expected from the European funds after a directive was apporved by the EU last year for unification of the railway standards. The issue became topical after the terrorist attacks in the USA on September 11, 2002 as a result of which the railway transport was reaffirmed on the old continent as major means of transport. Bulgarian railways, however, are of a different standard and the EU is ready to pay for their bringing in compliance with European standards.If the state institutions and the people from the infrastructure companies go out of their usual passiveness, Bulgaria has fair chances to take advantage of its strategic geographical location and become a railroad corridor between the Adriatic (and from there the Mediterranean) and the countries in Central and Western Europe, experts claim. The necessary construction for widening the railroad will create working positions and new tangible long-term assets. Bulgaria will also charge taxes for the trains, passing through its territory. In addition, the intensified railroad traffic will offer opportunities for the settlements near the railways.