CROATIA's railway network continues to show signs of neglect two decades since the Balkans conflict which tore Yugoslavia apart and left much of its infrastructure in ruins.

While the Croatian government initially focused on rebuilding roads with only a few railway schemes, in 2012 it turned its attention to rail by establishing the Railway Commission, which has resulted in an array of projects to restore and develop new railway infrastructure across the country.

Croatia's Transport Development Strategy 2014-2030, which was adopted by the government in October 2014, is the basis for financing railway projects with the government expected to allocate €500m from 2014 to 2020. It follows the €150m spent on modernising the railways through the 2007-2013 Transport Operational Programme, and like the projects included in this programme, the government is banking on receiving additional support from the European Union, which Croatia joined as the 28th member state on July 1 2013.

Among HŽ Infrastructure's priority projects is the redevelopment of corridors RH1 and RH2. RH1 is part of TEN-T Corridor X, and the Croatian section links Savski Marof on the border with Slovenia with Zagreb, Vinkovci and Tovarnik on the Serbian border. Corridor RH2, which is part of the Mediterranean corridor, or branch B of TEN-T Corridor V, runs from Šapjane on the Slovenian border to Ogulin, Karlovac, Zagreb and Botovo on the border with Hungary.

Some schemes slated to improve the interoperability of the two corridors to meet EU standards have already been completed, including an €11.4m project in 2013 to install new signalling and interlocking systems at Zagreb station where the two lines meet. This project, 85% of which was funded through an EU Instrument for Pre-Accession grant, has reduced shunting times and eliminated the bottlenecks previously impeding long-distance operations.

In total around e1bn is due to be spent on RH2 from 2015 to 2019 with some preliminary projects already completed and others underway.

CroatiaThese include conversion of electrification from 3kV dc to 25kV 50Hz ac on the Moravice - Rijeka - Šapjane, Škrljevo - Bakar, and Sušak Pecine - Rijeka Brajdica sections. This €83m project completed the rollout of a unified 25kV ac system across Croatia in 2013.

In addition the refurbishment of the Krizevci - Koprivnica section under a €28m project was completed in 2014 while work is underway on the Koprivnica - Botovo section in a project estimated to be worth €15.2m.

The Jastrebarsko - Zdencina upgrade between Karlovac and Zagreb is also complete, where speeds have been increased from 80 to 140km/h.

Also nearing completion is the €22.3m rehabilitation of the 16.5km Skrad - Moravice section. This upgrade will increase speeds from 50 to 80km/h on this demanding mountainous route as well as improve passenger comfort. An upgrade worth approximately €40m also began on the Moravice - Ogulin section in August 2014.

Another upcoming project is the upgrade of the existing line and construction of a second track between Dugo Selo and Krizevci. Bids from two parties were submitted to HZ Infrastructure in February for the work which is budgeted at €198m, with the EU providing €168m of these funds.

Other planned projects, which will make up the majority of the expected outlay on RH2, but are yet to secure funding include:

  • construction of a second track on the Krizevci - Koprivnica - Hungarian border section
  • reconstruction and construction of a second track on the Hrvatski Leskovac - Karlovac section, and
  • track-doubling between Goljak and Skradnik.

Investments of €160m are planned to modernise, reconstruct and renew RH1 which will increase line speeds to 160km/h and axleloads to 22.5 tonnes. The short section from the border with Slovenia to Zagreb is one of the country's most important commuter routes but is mixed traffic apart from on the Zagreb West - Zagreb Main Station section.

From Zagreb Main Station the corridor runs east to Dugo Selo. A €30.2m project to renew 16km of double-track between Zagreb Borongaj and Dugo Selo was completed by a consortium of Swietelsky and Pruzne Gradevine last summer when the maximum line speed was raised to 140km/h.

Further double-track upgrades are planned on the 83.4km stretch south from Dugo Selo to Novska at a cost of €558m, with work being carried out in specific sections between Dugo Selo and Kutina, Kutina and Lipovljani where a new double-track section will be built, and Lipovljani - Novska. A €15.6m design project is underway, with the EU providing 85% of these funds and 15% coming from the Croatian government. This documentation will form the basis of an application for EU funds to complete the project.

Sections where work has been completed include the 6.5km stretch from Zagreb Main Station south to Klara where speeds have been increased from 50 to 90km/h through a project completed in 2013 at a cost of €10m, and on the 9.7km section from Velika Gorica to Turopolje under a e13m project which has raised speeds from 50 to 140km/h.

In addition, upgrades to the line from Vinkovci to Tovarnik and the Serbian border have already been carried out under a €60.2m project. This ran from September 2008 to December 2011, and was the first in Croatia to benefit from EU funding, with €28.8m, or 35% of the funds provided. Trains can now travel at up to 160km/h on this section, with the upgrades including replacement of war-damaged signalling and interlockings with ETCS Level 1 as well as the installation of a new telecommunications system. Seven existing stops were modernised and two new stops added while stations at Jankovci and Deletovci were rebuilt.

Work is also underway to reconstruct the 16.8km Novska - Okucani section and around 3km of track around Okucani station. An EU IPA grant is funding 85% of the €35.9m project with the Croatian government covering the remaining 15%.

From Okucani the next section of RH1 up for development is the 131.3km double-track stretch to Slavonski Brod and Vinkovci. Work to develop a feasibility study to define the technical parameters for this project is planned.

Other projects

In addition to the two core corridors, HŽ Infrastructure is targeting other upgrades across Croatia. This includes the Lika Project, a €21m upgrade of the Oštarije - Knin - Split line which is underway and due to be completed by 2017.

HZ Infrastructure also plans to construct new lines that are of regional and local importance. Bids for construction of the new Gradec - Sveti Ivan Zabno line, which is estimated to cost €32.4m and is co-financed by the EU is underway. Design for the reconstruction and electrification of the Podsused - Zabok line along with plans for the new Podsused - Samobor line, which will also be co-financed by the EU, are planned.

HZ Infrastructure says that one of its primary objectives is to increase the role of the railways in transporting passengers, in particular on suburban services in Rijeka and Zagreb. In addition, preliminary work in Split has begun to define the terms of reference for the preliminary design of an integrated transport project in Split-Dalmatia County. Here HZ Infrastructure will cooperate with Split-Dalmatia County to develop a master plan for regional mobility.

Of course operating cross-border railways like RH1 and RH2 requires effective cooperation with other infrastructure managers. HŽ Infrastructure says a joint operations manual has been developed in Slovenia for the two countries based on EU regulations.

"We are cooperating with regard to the delivery of onboard electronic documents, and to introduce a computer programme that will offer a train route upon special request," says Mr Ivan Vukovic, member of the Management Board at HŽ Infrastructure.

An automatic translation system is also being put together to ease difficulties with language experienced with Hungarian State Railways (MAV) while in Serbia, regulations for the border crossing are reviewed annually. It is a similar story with Bosnia and Herzegovina, although cooperation takes place with infrastructure managers at B-H Federation-level and with the Republic of Srpska.

HŽ Infrastructure has a lot on its plate over the next few years, and its success is riding on the continuing support of the EU. Progress made thus far is encouraging, but as the array of projects planned shows, there is a lot yet to be done to deliver the infrastructure required for two European TEN-T corridors and an infrastructure manager intent on improving services for freight and passengers.