The Chairman of the Transport and Telecommunications Committee in the 39th National Assembly, Prof. Iordan Mirchev: Modernisation will Guarantee Bright Future for the Railways

In his interview, Prof. Mirchev points out that the Committee, which he chairs, focuses its activity upon three main spheres. The first one is the successful harmonisation of Bulgarian transport and telecommunication legislation with European legislation and EU Directives. The second one is the establishment of a favourable business environment in Bulgaria. The updates of the Road Act, the Civil Aviation Act and the Marine Space, Inland Waterways and Ports Act provide the first serious opportunity for the attraction of significant foreign investments and the concessioning of transport facilities. The update of the Road Act allows for the concessioning of motor highways. The new Telecommunications Act is fully in line with EU Directives and liberalises telecom services entirely. The third main focus of the Committee is the development of a privatisation strategy for BTC, followed by the tender for a third GSM operator. Recently, after negotiations were signed, the contracts for third-generation mobile communications and the enormous investments were made possible due to the new Telecommunications Act. As a result of the privatisation strategy for the Bulgarian River Shipping Co., our country has attracted foreign investment of over EUR2 billion. By mid-June, the port of Bourgas will be put into operation. By end-2005, the new terminal and runways of Sofia Airport will be open for services. Work on the projects for the second Danube bridge and the rehabilitation of the Plovdiv-Svilengrad line made important progress.

The subsidies for the Bulgarian railways in the period 2001-2005 amounted to BGN360 million (plus a further BGN127.9 million for the remission of VAT due). The funding for the railway infrastructure amounted to about BGN180 million.

It is necessary to make significant improvements to the Railway Transport Act, as well as in overall railway management. The Act does not function properly, especially as regards relations between operator and infrastructure manager. The main issue is the modernisation of transport technologies in both passenger and freight services. Efforts should be made for the establishment of an integrated national railway scheme, which would render long-distance passenger services by rail competitive with road services. It is necessary to find the proper way of taking BDZ EAD out of the list of companies which are banned from privatisation, and enable it to cooperate with eligible private operators, which would introduce state-of-the-art technologies and contribute to the increase of the railway market share in the sphere of passenger and freight transports. The most important thing for railways is to increase their market share.

The large infrastructure projects cannot rely upon state funding. Their implementation should be made viable by post-accession funds in 2007-2009 as stated in the Project for a national transport strategy, the first of its kind for the last 15 years. It is envisaged that after the construction of the second Danube bridge is completed, significant investment should be made into priority routes such as Vidin-Sofia and Sofia-Plovdiv in order to enable the construction of a modern transit route Svilengrad-Plovdiv-Sofia to be later extended via the second Danube bridge to Central and Western Europe. Another important route is Sofia-Kulata. Bulgaria should recapture its key position in the Euro-Asian transport corridor.

Another important issue is the so-called cross-border cooperation the current condition of Bulgarian border crossing points does not comply with EU requirements and much effort is being made to improve this situation. It is obvious that the annual budget subsidies for railway infrastructure, amounting to BGN20-30 million, are far from sufficient. This is why a mechanism for the concessioning of railway lines, similar to the mechanism applied to the concessioning of ports and highways, should be considered. The Railway Transport Act should be thus updated in order to promote public-private partnerships.

Railways should be considered strategically and in long-term perspective. There should be private Bulgarian operators, but more opportunities should be provided to those operators that offer new products, which in itself also calls for legislative changes. Private operators should be assessed on the grounds of new technologies offered by them, of their ability to increase railway market share and to improve railway competitiveness. It is necessary not to re-distribute but to increase the market share of railway services by means of transit services or new technologies.

The role of combined transport technologies along the Pan-European transport network is highly important. This is the context in which we should regard the interaction between road and rail modes.

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