STA, 29 July - Infrastructure Minister Jernej Vrtovec and his Austrian counterpart Leonore Gewessler took part in Thursday's ceremony marking the reopening of the Karavanke railway tunnel following a safety and technical upgrade. The ministers said on the occasion that railways represented the backbone of mobility of future.
After taking a train ride through the Karavanke rail tunnel with Gewessler, Vrtovec told the press that the upgraded tunnel was a major step in securing greater traffic flow capacity between Slovenia and Austria.
This also brings better conditions for the economy and passengers, the Slovenian minister said, noting that the modernisation of the 8-km tunnel eliminated a bottleneck in rail transport between Slovenia and Austria and represented a major hub.
Rail transport in the tunnel will be speeded up, as instead of the maximum of 50 km/h, trains will now be able to travel through it at speeds of up to 120 km/h. The upgraded safety of rail traffic also means greater safety for passengers, Vrtovec said.
The location of the tunnel. Image: gov.si
As part of works that took some 10 months, the two-track railway line, constructed in 1906, has been replaced with a single track, damaged parts of the tunnel tube have been repaired, the entry portal has been reconstructed and drainage and fire safety has been improved.
The project was financed both by Slovenia and Austria, with its cost estimated at EUR 79 million, of which more than EUR 49 million was chipped in by the European Cohesion Fund.
"Railways are the future both for passenger and freight transport," Vrtovec said, adding that they "must become the backbone of passenger and freight transport and play a key role in decarbonisation of transport."
According to the national recovery and resilience plan, Slovenia is to invest EUR 280 million in grants in railway infrastructure, and this year alone EUR 509 million is expected to be earmarked from the national budget for this purpose.
Slovenia took the opportunity of the closure of the tunnel to upgrade almost the entire railway section between Kranj and Jesenice, which according to the minister is expected to be reopened next month. "This will connect Slovenia and Austria in an even faster and more efficient way."
The Austrian minister of climate action, environment, energy, mobility, innovation and technology added that the joint task of Slovenia, Austria and other EU member states was to prepare infrastructure for the future. "With projects such as this we build the future of mobility in Europe."
Gewessler agreed that "trains will be the backbone of climate-friendly future", adding that Austria intended to invest EUR 17.5 billion in railway infrastructure in the next six years to get "modern railway tracks, stations and trains."