Plenty of work ahead for National Railways once new locomotives arrive

Our market has great potential; all we need now is to get our new locomotives as soon as possible so we can provide businesses with better and faster transportation, North Macedonia's Railways Transport director Orhan Murtezani tells MIA in this interview.

Skopje, 15 November 2019 (MIA) – Our market has great potential; all we need now is to get our new locomotives as soon as possible so we can provide businesses with better and faster transportation, North Macedonia’s Railways Transport director Orhan Murtezani tells MIA in this interview.

Freight traffic income from the first nine months of 2019 has grown 2.7 percent since 2018, Murtezani says, adding that the lack of locomotives remains the state company’s biggest problem.

Once the new locomotives join its fleet, the company hopes to revive its business of shipping by rail, some of which has been taken over by trucks.

Murtezani says they’re now finalizing their internal committee report on the purchase of electric locomotives from CRRC Corporation Limited from China, which they hope to soon deliver to the government.

“We’re almost done with the paperwork for the first locomotive, and we should introduce it into our railway system soon,” Murtezani tells MIA. “I hope we get the remaining three locomotives by the end of the year.”

In early September, the government tasked you with forming an internal committee that would evaluate the procedure of procuring the locomotives from CRRC and determine why it stalled. What did you discover, and what are the next steps, considering legal proceedings were mentioned as a possibility?

In line with governmental directions, our internal committee has been working on resolving the situation with the Chinese locomotives.

The report is almost done, and we’ll soon forward it to the government.

Recently, you attended a trilateral meeting with representatives from Serbia Cargo and Rail Cargo Hungary to find a way to increase freight transport. What are the challenges these companies face? Have you agreed on ways to improve the business?

My first meeting with my Serbia Cargo colleagues was in September, the very month I was appointed General Director.

Serbia’s network at the time had 36 trains waiting to enter North Macedonia for quite some time. The entire railway infrastructure had come to a halt.

At our second meeting, we determined that trains waiting to enter our country weren’t as many; they were in the single digits, and they were regular trains.

As a result of our internal reorganization, now the numbers show an increase [in the amount of freight]. If we compare September of 2018 and September of 2019, it’s obvious this year we’ve transported more than 20.000 tons.

The biggest challenge we face now is the lack of locomotives.

Lately, with great efforts, we managed to restore one diesel and one electric locomotive that had been sitting around unused for a while.

But until we get the new Chinese locomotives, we’ll have to make do with limited capacities.

I hope we get the remaining three by the end of the year so that we can set them all into motion. This would increase the national railway transport capacity significantly.

Do many businesses ship by rail nowadays, given how economical and environmentally friendly it is? What kind of results have you observed since last year and the beginning of this year?

Although transport by rail is environmentally friendly and most economical, it’s not as represented in the overall transportation of goods in the Republic of North Macedonia due to our lack of locomotives and railway traction vehicles.

Even so, our freight traffic income grew 2.7 percent over the first nine months of 2019 compared to last year. When we add the new locomotives to our capacities, we hope our trains will again transport some goods currently being transported by trucks.

How many freight cars does the company have? Do you plan to obtain new ones?

As of Oct. 1, 2019, North Macedonia’s Railways Transport has 1,235 freight cars, out of which 570 are being used to transport goods, and 665 are inactive.

Most of the inactive cars are inactive due to their year of production, and because the International Union of Railways deems them outdated and doesn’t recommend their restoration.

As far as obtaining new freight cars, it depends on our economy’s demands. Our economy mostly relies on the import of reproductive material and ready-made products transported to our market using foreign cars.

This is in accordance with our regulations, which specify that the exporting country should use its own freight cars to transport the goods we import.

How does the overall state of our economy reflect on your freight transport business? Who are your biggest clients, and do you expect their number to increase?

Our country has allowed the import of very old trucks, driven for prices so low that we can’t compete even by charging to cover our basic expenses.

We have disloyal competitors who use old trucks—which heavily pollute the air—and they lower railway transport demand. This is particularly true for goods from the Thessaloniki port, which are shipped by trucks.

Transport by rail has increased in relation to last year, which is reflected in our overall income. More locomotives and freight cars would increase this percentage even more.

Our market has great potential; all we need now is to get our new locomotives as soon as possible so we can provide businesses with better and faster transportation.

Our biggest import-export clients are Makstil, Liberty Group, Makpetrol, Cementara, IGM Kavadarci, Feni, Feronikeli Kosovo, and many more.

North Macedonia’s Railways Transport system uses the Pan-European Corridor X to transport transit trains from Thessaloniki and Athens towards Europe and vice versa.

When our new electric locomotives arrive, we expect a significant increase in transportation using import-export as well as transit trains, which will lead to a higher number of clients, as well.

What do figures show regarding your rail passenger service? What are your plans to make it better?

The number of rail passengers during the first eight months of 2018 was 362,171, compared to 358,032 in the first eight months of 2019.

Note that in 2019, we achieved this number despite missing a couple of express trains because the Skopje-Bitola-Skopje rail service was disrupted.

Adding to our fleet, purchasing new trains and introducing them to our rail service would lead to a rise in the number of passengers.

Lidija Velkovska

Photos by Darko Popov

Translated by Dragana Knežević

Edited by Magdalena Reed

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