THE European Commission (EC) has approved, under European Union (EU) state aid rules, a Lev 63m (€32m) scheme being implemented by the Bulgarian government to encourage freight and passenger traffic to shift from road to rail. 

The scheme will be funded by the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) after the EC assessed and approved adoption of the Bulgarian Recovery and Resilience Plan.

The aim of the overall scheme, which will run until April 30 2026, is to remove technical barriers to interoperability and to promote modal shift from road to rail to help achieve environmental transport objectives.

The support given will take the form of direct grants to operators to finance the retrofit ETCS Level 2 onboard equipment to existing rolling stock to improve cross-border interoperability and so enhance the competitiveness of rail.

In its assessment of the scheme under EU state aid rules, in particular Article 93 of the treaty on the function of the EU on transport coordination, and the 2008 EC guidelines for state aid for railway undertakings, the EC found that the Bulgarian scheme “is necessary and proportionate to support interoperability and promote the use of rail transport, which is less polluting than road transport and reduces road congestion.”

The EC also found that the aid package would have an “incentive effect”, as those operators benefiting would not otherwise carry out the necessary investment without receiving public support.

It therefore concluded that the measure would contribute to achieving transport coordination and to facilitating the shift of both passenger and freight traffic from road to rail, in line with the objectives of the EU Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy and the European Green Deal. Furthermore, the measure would achieve these aims without unduly distorting competition in the single market.

In July 2022 Bulgaria’s National Railway Infrastructure Company (NRIC) began work on a Lev 205.8m ($US 107.1m) project to install ETCS Level 2 and GSM-R on the Ruse - Kaspichan line as part of the continuing rollout of ERTMS across its network that began with installation of ETCS Level 1 on the 293 Plovdiv - Burgas line in 2021.

NRIC says one of the objectives of the programme is to ensure technical and operational compatibility of trackside equipment with the onboard equipment of rolling stock used by European operators, removing a barrier to cross-border services.