As one tunnel is finished another is started

This summer will see the completion of one of Europe’s greatest transport projects – the Gotthard Base Tunnel.  The 35.4-mile tunnel (about the same length as the Channel Tunnel) will have profound effects on all rail-freight over the Alps from the North Sea Ports to Italy. Hopefully it will also change the logistics between much of northern and southern Europe by encouraging a switch of mode in rails’ favour.

But nothing stands still and just as one project is (nearly) complete another starts. At long last a scheme has been firmed up to improve rail communications with the Adriatic and central Europe – a new rail line to the port of Koper in Slovenia.

The port of Koper developed after WW2 but became internationally significant when the tiny northern fraction of the former Yugoslavia became a stable free and independent country while most of the Balkans was dissolving into war. At much the same time globalisation of industrial production was driving up the number of containers transiting the world’s oceans and one of the largest shipping routes was (and still is) Asia (China in particular) to Europe. A port on the Adriatic provided importers and exporters with a shortcut- cutting up to a week from journey times between these trading blocks. Koper grew and now handles 19 million tons of rail-borne freight a year- 1/3 of which is containerised. Some big names in the automotive industry have also started to use Koper for their finished vehicle logistics – Mercedes switched some of their exports from Bremerhaven  to Koper, but had to switch back as the they couldn’t get reliable or sufficient paths to the port.

Improving the rail links has been talked about for at least 20 years but at last this looks like getting off the drawing board and into concrete! The project would see a new railway built from Divača on the main (double-track) line Ljubljana to Trieste to the port. This branch is just 49km long (Divača to Koper) but is single track, very twisty and has gradients of 2.5%.  The new line will be just over 37km in length of which over 20km will be in tunnels. The line will be single track (except for the first 3km south of Divača) with 1% grades and 600m curves designed for 120kph running. Because of the improvement in quality of the line the tonnage hauled could be increased from 9 to 15 million tons per year.

The hinterland connections from Koper are via Austria and Hungary. The loser in terms of market share would (at face value) be the northern German ports but the Port of Hamburg could simply buy  chunks of Koper – it has done similar things before! 

    Yellow line Koper to Hamburg via Austria  

     Red line    Koper to Hamburg via Eastern Europe