Railways against the forces of nature

By Tsvetelina STEFANOVA

It seemed that in the period 3rd-14th July 2005, the railways were sucked into a vortex. The unstoppable torrential rains turned the railway lines in North and North-East Bulgaria into a watery hell. The disaster broke the normal rhythm of work in both railway companies. The National Railway Infrastructure Company (NRIC) faced serious problems - some stations (Butovo, Nevsha) were flooded, the ballast in a number of railway sections was entirely swept away, which called for the urgent adoption of reconstruction and safety measures. The experts in the company took the adequate decision to cancel temporarily the operation of some trains and to redirect other trains along alternative routes, bearing in mind the necessity to implement in the best possible way the commitment to ensure the transport of the passengers to their destination.

On the initiative of the former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Transport and Communications, Nikolay Vassilev, a crisis centre was established. The crisis centre team was headed by the former Deputy Minister of Transport and Communications, Anelia Krushkova, and involved the CEO of BDZ EAD, Nasko Tsanev, the Director General of NRIC, Dimitar Gaidarov, the District Governors of Veliko Tarnovo and Rousse and the Deputy District Governor of Varna. The task of the team was to search for ways out of the disastrous situation.

In the very first days of the disaster, the track maintenance and repair experts in NRIC assessed the damages as "enormous". In spite of the 24-hour shifts of emergency services, the struggle with the floods in the most heavily-damaged sections continued for days on end. The final report, presented by NRIC on 14th July 2005, stated that about BGN106 million will be necessary for the entire reconstruction of the damaged railway infrastructure.

Approximately BGN10.058 million will be necessary for the most urgent repair works, which are required with a view to the restoration of normal train operations in the whole country.

- For Pleven Regional division for railway infrastructure maintenance (RDRIM) - BGN399,000;

- For Varna RDRIM (the sections Kaspichan - Nevsha - Provadia; Nadarevo - Han Krum; Shumen-Smiadovo; Komunari - Dalgopol; Hitrino - Visoka poliana - Samuil) - BGN5.250 million;

- For Gorna Oryahovitsa RDRIM (the sections Assenovo - Slavianovo, Drianovo - Tsareva livada; Popovo - Dralfa; Dzhuliunitsa - Strazhitsa) - BGN1.709 million;

- For Stara Zagora RDRIM (the section Liubenovo - Galabovo, etc.) - BGN2.7 million.

A further BGN88 million will be necessary for the entire restoration of the technical status of the railway infrastructure. This amount is broken down as follows:

- For Pleven RDRIM - BGN9.967 million;

- For Varna RDRIM (the sections Kaspichan - Nevsha - Provadia; Nadarevo - Han Krum; Shumen - Smiadovo; Komunari - Dalgopol; Hitrino - Visoka poliana - Samuil) - BGN27.247 million;

- For Gorna Oryahovitsa RDRIM (the sections Assenovo - Slavianovo, Drianovo - Tsareva livada; Popovo - Dralfa; Dzhuliunitsa - Strazhitsa) - BGN32.762 million;

- For Stara Zagora RDRIM (the section Liubenovo - Galabovo, etc.) - BGN13.297 million;

- For Sofia RDRIM 2 (Klisoura station) - BGN1.494 million;

- For Bourgas RDRIM (Tvarditsa - Shivachevo) - BGN3 million.

This check list continues with the amount of BGN7.938 million, which is necessary for the lasting restoration of power supply facilities, signalling installations and telecommunications.

The worsening weather conditions imposed urgent changes in the transport scheme of BDZ EAD. In the extremely pressing and dynamic circumstances, the personnel of the railway operator showed excellent organisation and discipline. The passengers were transported by buses although roads were also flooded, which posed additional operational problems.

In the period 4th-13th July 2005, the company provided buses for the transport of about 9,000 passengers from 181 trains, operating along the most damaged sections. The company hired 255 buses from various transport firms. During the same period, 127 trains were cancelled, while other 70 trains were redirected along different routes.

The torrential rains hindered the train traffic to and from Varna. In the period 4th-7th July 2005, it was impossible to travel by train from Gorna Oryahovitsa to Varna. Between the stations of Gorna Oryahovitsa and Shoumen both tracks in the sections Popovo - Dralfa and Han Krum - Nadarevo were flooded. The night trains along the line Sofia - Varna were redirected along the sub-Balkan railway line via Karlovo in order to avoid the damaged sections between Gorna Oryahovitsa and Shoumen. In two other railway sections, Slavianovno - Assenovo and Dzhuliunitsa - Strazhitsa, one of the tracks was flooded. When it was possible to restore operations along these sections, BDZ EAD reduced traffic speeds to 15 km/h in order to guarantee the safety of passengers.

The fast trains between Pleven and Varna were redirected along different routes - after Gorna Oryahovitsa they ran via Rousse, Kaspichan, Shoumen and Komunari, in order to avoid the closed sections between Gorna Oryahovitsa and Shoumen and Kaspichan - Provadia.

Particularly difficult was the situation in the section Dryanovo - Tsareva livada, where the torrential rains activated landslides, and large pieces of rock blocked the railway line. The train traffic along this section was cancelled as of 4th July 2005.

Due to a collapse of the track in the section Hitrino - Visoka poliana, rail traffic was cancelled and trains could not continue their operation beyond Samuil station. Immediate actions were undertaken to provide buses for the passengers from Samuil to Kaspichan and Provadia.

The international trains between Istanbul and Bucharest were also redirected along a different route - via Sofia.

In the late hours on 12th July 2005 the torrential rains hindered traffic along the railway sections Kalofer - Tazha, Shivachevo - Tvarditsa and Samuil - Visoka poliana. The ballast, swept away by the rains, caused the derailment of two locomotives and six wagons of a freight train composition of 24 wagons altogether in the section between Shivachevo and Tvarditsa. Due to a landslide over the railway track in the section between Kalofer and Tazha, the train traffic was cancelled in the night of 12th July 2005. This made it necessary to redirect along alternative routes the fast train from Bourgas to Sofia and the night train from Sofia to Varna, which routinely runs via Karlovo. After traffic was restored, the trains ran along these sections at a speed of 25 km/h.

Because of a landslide in the section Samuil - Visoka poliana, the trains between Samuil and Kaspichan were cancelled. The international trains from Moscow to Varna and Bourgas were redirected via Gorna Oryahovitsa and Shoumen.

To sum it up, we can say that the personnel of BDZ EAD and NRIC showed ability to swim in crisis waters. Still, this alone is not sufficient. The railways will manage to keep above water only if the state and the European institutions and funds provide it with the necessary "lifeboat" in the form of much-needed and urgent financial support.

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