On February 3, at the Albanian Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure in Tirana, Minister Belinda Balluku and Italian company INC S.p.A. signed a contract for the renovation of the 34km Tirana-Durres railway and the construction of a new 5.7km line connecting the capital to “Mother Teresa” International Airport.

The signing ceremony

Representatives of the European Union and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), that co-finance part of the project, were also present at the signing ceremony. INC S.p.A., a Turin-based company that is part of the FININC Group, had won the tender procedure organized by the EBRD and Albanian Railways last October, beating 22 other companies. The construction works will create 2000 new jobs and the new Tirana-Durres railway will be completed by 2023.

The project, worth €90.3 million, will be financed with a €36.9-million loan from the EBRD and a €35.4-million European Union grant, extended through the Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF). The remaining €16 million will be provided by the Albanian government. The Tirana-Durres railway, already existing but partly in disuse after the dismantling of Tirana’s Railway Station in 2013, connects the capital to the coastal city of Durres, home to the largest port of the country and an important regional hub for international trade.

Albanian Railways T 669 Locomotive
Photo of the Tirana-Durres railway

The funds provided by the EBRD and the European Union are part of a wider program aimed at improving the economic condition of the Western Balkans, in light of the future enlargement of the Union in the region. Among the instruments of this program is the Berlin Process, an intergovernmental cooperation mechanism that includes all regional stakeholders and focuses on the issues of infrastructure and economic development.

In 2014, within the Berlin Process, the Balkan countries had agreed on a Connectivity Agenda comprising different projects related to the building of transport and energy infrastructures. Among those projects was the Tirana- Durres railway, that once completed will be part of the Mediterranean Corridor, the main southern axis of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T).

Oliver Varhelyi
Olivér Várhelyi

Europe’s commitment in the region is demonstrated by the comprehensive Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, announced at the end of last year by European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi. The plan, in line with the objectives of the Next Generation EU and the Green New Deal, aims to spur the long-term recovery of the region supporting a green and digital transition. The fund sets out a substantial investment package of €9 billion, financed with EU grants and loans form international institutions such as the EIB and the EBRD.