EBRD Calls for an Increase in Rail Investment in the Western Balkans

Photo-illustration: Unsplash (Balazs Busznyak)

As one of the major multilateral investors in the Western Balkans, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has issued an appeal for more investment in the region’s railway sector to address the climate change emergency and improve connectivity.

“Rail not only plays a critical role in any well-balanced transport system, it is the lynchpin for a sustainable transport approach and has a key role to play in addressing today’s climate emergency,” Nandita Parshad, EBRD Managing Director, Sustainable Infrastructure Group, said in an opening address at the first Western Balkans Rail Summit in Belgrade today.

The event – jointly organised by the EBRD, the European Investment Bank and the Transport Community – was dedicated to enhancing the integration of the Western Balkans’ rail system with the European Union (EU)’s rail system. The aim was to advance the regional, European and global transport policy agenda to secure safer, more efficient, interoperable, digitalised, sustainable and green development of the rail transport system in the Western Balkans.

To date, the EBRD has invested almost EUR 1 billion in the Western Balkans’ railway sector and remains committed to accelerating the pace of its activities: “We are determined to step up our investments and mobilise private-sector participation,” Ms Parshad said. “And, of course, we will continue to provide policy and technical assistance support to advance the region’s rail sector.”

In order to secure and deepen the sector’s development, the EBRD executive identified three priorities:

Investments: Investments in the hundreds of millions of euros are needed for further electrification of the rail track and rolling stock as well as to expand infrastructure and improve signalling and digitalisation.

Markets: It is important to open up the railway market to ensure faster and more efficient cross-border traffic, and to work with governments to promote regulatory and legislative measures that facilitate market opening as well as interoperability. Exploring ways to promote private-sector participation in the modernisation and expansion of fleets as well as rail operations will help to deepen the role of the rail sector.

Capacity-building: Improving the governance and capacities of national railway companies is vital. Ambitious plans to improve service quality and speed in line with EU standards will require further strengthening of capacities to prepare and implement projects and essential reforms in the sector, improve corporate governance and enhance safety and maintenance.

Against the backdrop of the climate crisis, Ms Parshad called for urgent action: “Given that transport is responsible for approximately a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions and that rail is substantially cleaner than road transport, a modal shift towards rail will have a hugely positive impact on emission reductions and air quality. This is a tremendous opportunity to decarbonise the transport sector and an opportunity we must not miss.”

Source: EBRD