The Slovenia Times

Mes says govt should focus on regional routes after renovating core rail corridor


Ljubljana - The state should focus on regional rail tracks, particularly around the capital of Ljubljana, after it completes renovating the country's core rail corridor, Dušan Mes, boss of the national rail company Slovenske Železnice (SŽ), has told the STA in an interview. He says regional tracks do not allow for quality public transport.

The Infrastructure Ministry is now focussing on renovation of the Koper-Ljubljana route, an ongoing project that is to exceed half a billion euro. "And the second rail track between Divača and Koper, which is vital for logistics, is also being built." The entire railway in Gorenjska region, NW, was renovated to increase capacity, and so was the Celje-Maribor-Šentilj route in Štajerska region, NE.

The state's next projects should according to Mes focus on regional routes, foremost between Ljubljana and Kamnik, Grosuplje and Novo Mesto and in the Koroška region. "In particular the routes around Ljubljana do not allow for quality public railway transport. They must be modernised, upgraded and electrified."

Priorities are also how to route cargo transport so that it does not have to go through Ljubljana, how to increase capacity of regional routes, specially for daily commuters to Ljubljana, and upgrading one-track routes to two tracks.

He also believes connecting the Primorska and Gorenjska routes and the Primorska and Štajerska routes are priorities, but "they won't be cheap or built quickly".

What Mes considers the most demanding project is however cutting travel time by building new railways, especially in the Maribor-Ljubljana and Ljubljana-Koper areas.

He says "at least four new sections will have to be build" to shorten travel from Maribor to Ljubljana and from Ljubljana to Koper to an hour.

As for SŽ's plans, the company is planning takeovers in the region already in the second half of 2022 as its cargo partnership with Czech EP Holding is being finalised.

"On 1 January a new company SŽ-EP will be up and running," explains Mes.

"The strategic partner is entering SŽ these days, the new company is being supplied with fresh capital, we'll shortly renew the joint venture's strategic plan and then this company will start with certain takeovers in the region, which is also the goal - takeovers in Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia."

SŽ is continuing modernising its trains, with the first 26 new Stadler passenger trains to be introduced by the end of 2021 and another 26 next year, while a new tender worth EUR 150 million is in the making for another 20 trains.

"By the end of 2024, SŽ should have 72 new trains. And under the strategic plan, another four engines and 20 international passenger trains are planned."

While SŽ has some 110 trains now, the figure will drop with the new trains, which have more capacity, says Mes, who is happy that Slovenia's transport policy favours public transport.

The company is also preparing for construction of Emonika or the Ljubljana Passenger Terminal, with all three investors - SŽ, the government and Hungary's private partner Mendota Invest - expecting to obtain the building permit next year.

SŽ is also investing a lot in digitalisation, while planning to replace 40 engines and finalise a takeover of bus company Nomago. "Things are moving forward," says Mes.

SŽ plans to finish 2021 within the plan, generating EUR 540 million in revenue, around EUR 34 million in EBITDA and EUR 30 million in net profit.

"The results are much better than last year, also because SŽ paid out almost EUR 30 million in severance pay" as it completed reorganisation processes in 2021.

The company now has around 6,700 employees, says Mes, adding "huge work" was done in this segment, or else "we would not have had such good results this year".

But the number of passengers is still below pre-pandemic levels although it is better than in 2020 when passenger transport stopped for a few months due to Covid-19.

The fall is also due to some routes being closed for renovation. "We expect the number of passengers to reach almost 15 million in 2022-2023, which is more than before the pandemic," he says, adding recovery is much faster in cargo transport, some segments of which have already exceeded pre-pandemic levels.


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