The Slovenia Times

Koper-Divača rail expansion top priority for infrastructure minister


Given the scale of the project, Bratušek realises it will be hard for a Slovenian company to win the tender, but she would still like Slovenian companies to take part as subcontractors.

However, whoever is chosen to build the track to the Koper port will have to respect worker rights, said Bratušek, stressing this would be one of the conditions set down in the contract.

The Infrastructure Ministry is currently working on the investment plan for the rail expansion, which should finally determine its price and sources of financing.

She said they had just finalised some issues regarding funding, and also discussed the financial impact of participation of a country whose companies are major customers of the port, in this case Hungary.

"I haven't got all the data yet, but I think some pieces of information will be quite interesting," said Bratušek, who said on several occasions Slovenia could build the rail on its own, yet she would not oppose another country participating if this brought added value.

"We haven't ruled out cooperation with Hungary yet, but we'll be the one to set conditions, to the Hungarians or anyone else," said Bratušek, who would also like to check whether any other country is willing to take part.

Bratušek stressed that Luka Koper, which operates the port of Koper and which she believes should stay in state ownership, needs the rail track for development, yet "Luka Koper will also have to take some measures to stay competitive".

Bratušek is not worried by apparent Chinese interest in Luka Koper's rivals - the ports of Rijeka in Croatia and Italy's Trieste.

"For me, it makes no difference if the Chinese enter the port, because I'll never agree to people in the port working the Chinese way, which means cheaply and 25 hours a day."

Other infrastructure projects to keep Bratušek busy are the construction of the second tube of the Karavanke tunnel on the border with Austria, and the long-awaited expressway linking the north with the south-east of the country, known as the Third Development Axis.

While construction work on the Austrian side of the tunnel is under way, in Slovenia, the selection of the contractor is being reviewed due to a dumping complaint.

"The price offered by the best bidder is comparable with that on the Austrian side," said Bratušek, so she does not believe there was any major dumping involved.

She indicated it would be good to launch construction work as soon as possible, saying the agreement was for both sides to come to the middle of the tunnel roughly at the same time.

The Third Development Axis, which has been on the agenda of several of Bratušek's predecessors, is also facing a number of setbacks, but she is optimistic.

A constitutional review of the national zoning plan has been filed by two municipalities, while land is being purchased further north, where construction work could be launched next year, explained the minister.

The ministry would also like to build an expressway to take the pressure off a very busy road between Postojna in the south-west and Jelšane on the border with Croatia, where cargo transport has increased significantly.

"But since zoning takes quite some time, small steps have to be taken to improve the existing road," she said.

As for redirecting more cargo to railways, Bratušek noted that the entire rail network needed to be improved first.

"We've focussed on the motorway network in the past decades, but I think the time has come to make a national plan to improve rail infrastructure."

She noted that a cargo train now travelled from Luka Koper to the other side of Slovenia at an average speed of 18-25 km/h, "which is unacceptable".

Turning to energy, Bratušek said "our goal will be cleaner energy and a higher level of self-sufficiency".

"I see Slovenia's competitive advantage in water," she said, explaining she would like to increase the share of renewables by building three power stations on the central Sava river.

This is why she would like to sign a concession contract with national power utility HSE by the end of this year.

She believes Slovenia cannot embrace renewables overnight considering that it gets two-thirds of power from the TEŠ coal-fired power station and the nuclear power station in Krško at the moment.

"If we renounce nuclear energy, we'd have to be ready to pay much more for electricity, and we'd also be more dependent on imports," said Bratušek, a former prime minister and the first woman at the helm of the Infrastructure Ministry.


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