Serbian President Says Talks Underway with China and Russia to Modernize Additional Railway Lines that Link China-Operated Piraeus Port with Central Europe
On May 30, Serbian President Aleksander Vucic said that Belgrade is in talks with Russian and Chinese companies regarding a $2 billion project to rehabilitate the Belgrade-Nis-Presevo railway, a southern rail route that is expected to connect to the Macedonian border and further enhance the China-backed strategic transport corridor linking the China-operated Port of Piraeus in Greece to Central Europe via the Balkans.
Vucic indicated that negotiations are already underway with China Railways International, China Communications Construction Company and Russia’s RZD International as potential contractors for the work. All three companies are currently already engaged in the development of the Belgrade-Budapest railway, one of the most important Belt and Road projects in Europe (which is also funded with Chinese state-backed loans).
The Belgrade-Budapest railway, which has been saddled with various forms of controversy, including objections from the EU over the lack of transparency and the failure to hold an open bid when it was originally awarded, has been at times characterized as just the beginning of a longer-term effort to reform and modernize a system of railway routes that presently link Piraeus to Budapest (a project described as the China-Europe land-sea fast intermodal transport route).
This latest announcement from President Vucic appears to signal that the next phase in this effort is taking shape, which could ultimately link Belgrade to Piraeus via Skopje and Thessaloniki. Nevertheless, the Serbian leader characterized the project in a local context, describing it as helping to develop the rural southern part of the country.
In a November 2019 interview with Greek publication, Katimerini, however, Vucic indicated that talks were ongoing with Chinese and European officials regarding the overall vision of rail connectivity linking Belgrade to Piraeus. Indeed, in another interview, Vucic confirmed that Skopje was ready to join in the initiative.
According to Vucic, the Belgrade-Nis-Presevo modernization project will connect trains traveling from Belgrade to Nis at speeds of up to 200 kilometers per hour, while the section from Nis to Presevo, will operate at speeds up to 160 kilometers per hour. (The current average speed is about 50km/h.)