WORK has begun near the city of Pirot in Serbia on the project to upgrade the 86km of railway between Niš and Dimitrovgrad close to the border with Bulgaria, the only section of Pan-European Railway Corridor X that is still unelectrified.

Corridor X of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) runs from Salzburg in Austria to Thessaloniki in Greece.

The project on branch Xc of the corridor in Serbia involves upgrading the single-track line and the construction of a 22.4km bypass running to the north of the city of Niš, in addition to electrification and resignalling throughout.

As well as reducing carbon emissions by replacing diesel traction, the upgrade will enable the average train speed to be increased from 50km/h to a maximum of 120km/h. It is expected to grow traffic from 170,000 to 550,000 passengers a year, and freight volumes from 3.2 million to 6.2 million tonnes a year.

The European Union (EU) financial package for the project consists of over €108m in grant funding channelled via the Western Balkans Investment Framework and a €134m loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB).

The EIB says that the project will also receive a €3.7m technical assistance grant for preparatory work, and a €1.5m grant under the EU Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) to design and build the Niš northern bypass.

The EIB’s Jaspers advisory programme, co-financed by the European Commission, provided technical assistance for project preparation, with the objective of securing blended financing through grants and loans.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the project was attended by the president of Serbia, Mr Aleksandar Vučić, and the EU ambassador to Serbia, Mr Emanuele Giofre, as well as ministers and representatives of EIB Global.

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