Despite the numerous challenges being faced by Serbia and the rest of the world as a consequence of the energy crisis and the conflict in Ukraine, our country is continuing to implement extensive infrastructural works that form the basis of further economic progress in regional and European frameworks
The state of transport infrastructure represents one of the key factors in attracting foreign investments, but also increasing the competitiveness of the domestic economy. It is for these reasons that the work of the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure is always at the heart of public interest.
It was just prior to the publishing of this special edition that regular high-speed train traffic commenced on the new Belgrade-Novi Sad express rail route. However, this isn’t the only rail route to have been renovated. And that’s precisely why we began this interview with Minister Tomislav Momirović by addressing the issue of connecting Serbian and European railways, the importance of these transport routes to further economic development and the environmental aspects of increasingly intensive use of railways.
“It’s completely certain that the entire European Union has recognised railways as the future of freight transport. Emissions of CO2 are 3.5 times lower per ton-kilometre than freight transports by road. Also testifying clearly to this is the fact that the EU decided to provide grants of 600 million euros to finance the modernisation of the Belgrade– Niš–Tabanovce railway, which will complete the rail section of Corridor 10 through our country,” says Minister Momirović.
As our interlocutor explains, “our greatest competition currently is coming from Corridor 4, through Bulgaria. With the modernisation of the Corridor 10 route through our country, we will be part of the shortest east-west route. Naturally, this all means much higher revenues for companies that provide railway transport services. Furthermore, any company considering an investment decision will very carefully calculate the price and speed at which it can transport its products to its consumers”.
The minister also notes that greater importance has been attached to the environmental impact of transport over recent years. “Developed high-speed railways provide the best response to all of these issues,” concludes Momirović.
Belgrade, followed by Niš, will see the relocating of rail tracks and hubs from their city centre areas. Considering that almost all major European cities have preserved the very central locations of their railway stations, what arguments do you have for reaching different solutions?
With the relocating of the noted railway stations, but also the building of new ones, numerous problems will be solved, and here I’m primarily referring to the relocating of freight traffic away from city centres, reducing the risk of traffic accidents involving rail vehicles, as well as eliminating various sources of noise pollution. Moreover, I would note that the project to reconstruct and modernise the Niš–Dimitrovgrad railway envisages the relocating of only rail freight traffic from Niš city centre, while passenger trains would continue operating as they have to date. In that way, with the construction of the aforementioned bypass, the capacity of the railway will be increased, which is extremely important to ensure the efficient future functioning of the Niš rail hub.
The Government of the Republic of Serbia is fully committed to the “Open Balkan” policy, which implies regional integration to ensure swifter and more efficient flows of goods and services, but we will see in the coming period how the conflict in Ukraine will impact on the connectivity of Europe as a whole
When it comes to Belgrade’s central railway station, during the previous period – on the basis of decades of analysis of rail traffic and various studies – an urbanisation project was developed for the construction of a railway station, parking facilities and accompanying business/commercial facilities within the scope of the “Belgrade Centre” railway station. One advantage of this relocation is the possibility to efficiently connect it with other parts of the city, as well as the possibility for trains included in the ‘BG: VOZ’ urban rail system to access this station and utilise it to transfer passengers between different railway systems, which contributes significantly to improving multimodality and thus improving the quality of rail services for travellers.
The idea of the ‘Open Balkan’ initiative is based, to a large extent, on the transport connectivity of the countries of the region. How close are we currently to realising this vision of good, modern connectivity across this region?
I consider us as being very close to achieving the goals, but that in no way implies that we shouldn’t continue implementing all tasks that move us towards even greater transport connectivity among the countries of the region. We do everything that we do in order to improve the prosperity of our citizens, and that’s also reflected in the “Open Balkan” project, which was launched extremely energetically by President Vučić. The “Open Balkan” project was launched to improve the future prospects of Serbia, to remove obstacles in the region and make our economies profitable, and also to facilitate the movements of citizens.
Advancing the integration, interconnectivity and economic growth of the entire region are our strategic interests. The Government of the Republic of Serbia is fully committed to the “Open Balkan” policy, which implies regional integration to ensure swifter and more efficient flows of goods and services, but we will see in the coming period how the conflict in Ukraine will impact on the connectivity of Europe as a whole.
You launched works to expand the capacity of Niš Constantine the Great Airport despite air transport being hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. What is the ministry’s strategic plan for the development of Serbia’s smaller airports?
We signed a contract in February that implies the executing of works to extend the terminal building within the complex of Constantine the Great Airport in Niš. This will make Niš’s airport one of the most modern in Southeast Europe. The upgrading of the terminal building will enable an annual capacity of 1.5 million passengers and the simultaneous serving of six aircraft. It will have departure gates and the possibility of deploying an air boarding bridge, which it doesn’t currently have. We will also secure additional commercial space and enable significant improvements to passenger comfort.
Planned works on the expansion of existing airport capacities haven’t been side-lined despite the current situation in the country and around the world. Alongside all current investments and the plan to further develop Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport, it is essential for us to have regional airports that serve the needs of other regions in Serbia, and here I’m primarily referring to the Constantine the Great Airport in Niš and the Morava Airport in Kraljevo. These airports represent a window to the world for their respective regions, and the investments of the ministry that I head serve to create even better conditions for receiving people and goods. Following the completion of important infrastructure projects in road and rail transport, and thanks to our country’s economic stability, we can talk about the strategy for Serbia – like developed countries – to have airports located within a 50-kilometre radius of important regional hubs.
Another major project that you are heading is the “Clean Serbia” project. How much progress has been made on this project and what are the realistic possibilities of achieving its objectives by the end of this year?
Less than eight per cent of municipal wastewater in Serbia is currently treated, while less than 10% of the population is covered by some level of wastewater treatment. An extremely low number of households are connected to the sewage system in the Republic of Serbia, with a large number continuing to utilise septic tanks. Our plan is to develop a sewage network covering 7,000 kilometres and construct more than 250 wastewater treatment plants in Serbia over the following five years. The plan is to invest four billion euros in the implementation of these projects, in order to resolve a problem that is being faced by approximately three million residents.
Once we complete important infrastructure projects in road and rail transport, we can turn to the strategy to develop air transport with the idea of Serbia – like developed countries – having airports located within a 50-kilometre radius of important regional hubs
President Aleksandar Vučić also launched the “Clean Serbia” project in an effort to resolve these accumulated problems and finally elevate Serbia’s infrastructure to the EU level. Untreated wastewater must no longer be pumped into our rivers; there must be no more wild dumpsites and waste products ending up discarded in forests and children’s playgrounds. This is today’s biggest and most critical environmental problem confronting citizens. We’ve allocated 300 million euros for environmental projects for this year – for the construction of the sewage network, wastewater treatment facilities and regional landfills.
Belgrade is a major construction site, but the general public needs more information regarding the strategic vision of connecting city transport and major hubs of regional and international traffic, such as the railway station and the new bus station? What is your vision; and what are your realistic plans to construct the parts of that mosaic that are currently lacking?
Realistic plans are visible to everyone. Major investment projects that are approaching the stage of commissioning – such as the high-speed railway and the Belgrade Bypass, along with the Metro [underground urban rail system], which we’ve finally advanced from a standstill – represent the backbone of our dream of the modern Belgrade, as a centre of domestic, regional, European and world transport corridors. From the intermodal terminal in Batajnica to the new Port of Belgrade, we are slowly adding pieces to the puzzle and raising the competitiveness of Belgrade and Serbia in global frameworks. That’s because roads and transport corridors enable the economy to take off. And regardless of how impatient citizens are, and how much they want that all to be built as soon as possible, they must be aware of the huge amounts of energy and funding that we’ve invested following previous governments’ decades of inactivity.
One of the biggest challenges of the Covid-19 period was the creation of green corridors enabling Serbian goods to make their way to the countries of the EU. What challenges are you facing as a consequence of the conflict in Ukraine and what possibilities do you envisage to resolve them?
The conflict in Ukraine is something that will have far-reaching consequences for the whole of Europe, and also the world. Here I would like to look back on the extremely difficult situation that we faced when it came to ensuring the safe return of our truck drivers who were “captured” in Ukraine. I would mention the fact that the ministry I head took all essential steps – through contact with road haulage associations – to secure precise and accurate information on the number and location of all of our haulage vehicles and drivers, our citizens, who were prevented from continuing their journey from Ukraine to Serbia. We succeeded in securing the return of our people to Serbia. We will certainly continue taking all steps towards enabling the unobstructed return of our drivers and goods to Serbia.
The state of transport infrastructure represents one of the key factors in attracting foreign investments, but also increasing the competitiveness of the domestic economy
We’ve allocated 300 million euros for environmental projects for this year – for the construction of the sewage network, wastewater treatment facilities and regional landfills
Airports in Niš and Kraljevo represent a window to the world for their respective regions, and enable even better conditions for receiving people and goods