SERBIA’s minister of construction, transport and infrastructure, Mr Goran Vesić, has signed a €54m contract with CRRC subsidiary CRRC Changchun for five 200km/h EMUs, which will operate on the Belgrade - Budapest line.

The first trains will be delivered at the start of 2025, following the completion of upgrades on the 183.1km Serbian section of the line to Subotica on the Hungarian border, which are due to be completed by the end of 2024.

The contract was one of four signed between Serbia and China at the Third Belt and Road International Cooperation Summit Forum held in Beijing to mark the programme’s 10th anniversary. The agreements are worth more than €4bn and also include major road projects and a commitment to closely coordinate on infrastructure development.

The new trains will meet European Union (EU) TSI standards, a condition Vesić says China was happy to meet. The four-car trains will have two power cars and two trailer cars.

“We have been negotiating for a long time with our friends from China regarding this contract,” Vesić says. “In 2025, after testing the railway, we will have a high-speed train from Belgrade to Subotica, travelling in 1h 10min. When our friends from Hungary finish their part of the railway, we will go to Budapest.”

Upgrade delays

However, doubts have emerged about when the Budapest - Belgrade project will be completed.

Hungarian news website Telex says that in recent months, Hungarian infrastructure manager MÁV has redirected equipment and personnel to address the deteriorating condition of the line between Budapest and Győr, causing further delays to the Budapest - Belgrade upgrade project. China has also ceased funding the project and Chinese personnel have stopped  work, reportedly due to the scaling back of involvement by companies owned by Hungarian billionaire, Mr Lőrinc Mészáros.

Chinese contractors have also reportedly been unable to install ETCS on the line, meaning the Hungarian government would either have to operate the line at reduced speed or launch a new tender to install the new signalling equipment, which would delay the project by several years.

Fleet contracts

The Serbian contract is CRRC’s third EMU order in Europe.

Czech-based operator Leo Express placed an order for three 160km/h six-car Sirius EMUs from CRRC ZELC in 2016, with an option for 30 additional trains. The trains were expected to enter service in 2021 after the first 111m-long bi-voltage (3kV dc/25kV 50Hz ac) Sirius train arrived in Europe in September 2019 and was transferred to the VUZ test centre at Velim in the Czech Republic for testing.

However, the contract was cancelled in April 2022 after the trains reportedly failed to secure full certification. It was widely known that certification of the trains was running late even when the impact of Covid-19 on activities at Velim was taken into account.

In June 2021, Austrian private operator Westbahn confirmed to IRJ that it was working with CRRC Zhuzhou to lease four new six-car double-deck EMUs.

CRRC Zhuzhou later delivered the first train to Velim in June 2022.

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