Rail transport goes back more than 150 years in Romania. The first railway was inaugurated on the 20th of August, 1854 in Banat, which at the time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The line connected Oravita to the Danube port of Buzias. With a length of 62.5 km, this connection was initially only used to transport coal. The line began to be used for passenger transport two years later, on November 1, 1856, according to the website of the Romanian Railways Company, cfr.ro. We also find out that between 1864 and 1880, various train tracks were built in the United Principalities as well. The connection between Bucharest and the Danube port city of Giurgiu was inaugurated on the 26th of August, 1869 and was the first on Romanian territory.
Railway transport then developed at a fast pace in Romania, in step with Europe. In 1918, after the union of the historical provinces of Transylvania, Banat, Bessarabia and Bukovina with the Romanian Kingdom to form Greater Romania, all railway lines that had until then belonged to Austro-Hungary and Russia became the property of the Romanian Railways. Starting in mid 20th century, the communist authorities invested greatly in rail transport to support the country’s fast industrialisation process. Apart from increasing rail traffic and building new tracks, especially in the rural areas, a lot of effort also went into electrification and building double-track lines. At the time of the 1989 anti-communist revolution, Romania had one of the largest, densest and most used railway networks in Europe.
Later however, as a result of economic liberalisation, the Romanian Railways Company CFR was divided into different structures, of which the most important were CFR SA, also known as CFR Infrastructure, which manages the tracks, as well as CFR Passengers and CFR Freight. However, the infrastructure has been greatly neglected in the meantime. Today, speed restrictions are in place on thousands of kilometres of railways because of the bad state of the tracks. Lucian Bode, an MP from the opposition National Liberal Party and the chairman of the Chamber of Deputies’ transport committee, sums up the situation today:
“Unfortunately, the railway sector in Romania is on the brink of collapse. The situation is very complicated. To give you an idea, there are freight trains travelling at 18 km per hour and passenger trains at 45 km per hour on average; 12,500 minutes of daily delays were reported in the first two months in 2017; and it takes seven days for a freight train to travel from Constanta [on the Black Sea coast] to Curtici [on the border with Hungary] compared with four days in the time of Carol II [in the 1930s]. We have incurred huge loses for Romania. CFR Freight and private operators have registered material losses as well. Unfortunately, we have registered losses in human lives, as only 71 out of a total of 5080 level crossings were modernised in 2017.”
The poor infrastructure has been one of the reasons for the large-scale protests recently staged by the trade unions in the country’s railway system. Here is Radmilo Felix, secretary general of the Train Engineers Union.
“For many years we have been trying to point out that the legislation must be changed and that serious investment in infrastructure must be made. Things must move gradually but surely in this direction, towards streamlining and raising the trains’ speed. Until five years ago, no money from the state budget had been invested in the railway infrastructure, for its maintenance and functioning within the required parameters. Five years ago, the Romanian government understood that it must also invest in infrastructure and has earmarked about 215 million euros. The Bucharest-Constanta section, towards the seaside, has been modernised allowing speeds of 120 kilometres an hour. It took 5 years to modernize this sector though.”
Social Democrat MP, Marius Sorin Bota, vice-president of the Transport Committee with the Chamber of Deputies, told us the following:
“Everybody in Romania, individuals and economic agents alike, has been complaining about the slow pace of works and sometimes of poor workmanship. A railway company needs a different pace in its streamlining process, because it’s unacceptable to have almost zero achievements in 10 years or to achieve something that can’t be used yet. In May the government is expected to come up with a new public procurement law that can simplify procedures. I hope that will help…”
According to Liberal MP Lucian Bode, chairman of the Transport Committee with the Chamber of Deputies, apparently there are solutions and also ways of revitalizing Romania’s railway infrastructure.
"We have European money and resources! CFR SA (n.n. – infrastructure) has a 1.1 billion euro budget for 2018. At the budget adjustment last year, CFR S.A. lost 70 million euros. So they have money. There is also the European money; over 6 billion euros for the entire infrastructure. 1.2 billion euros have been made available through the Connect Europe Facility mechanism…But if they modernize only 400 kilometres of railway in 12 years.... Kenya managed to modernize the same distance in four years…But as long as we keep using the lowest bidder alternative, we’ll also have to expect the lowest quality in workmanship. I don’t believe that price is the only thing that we should take into account. It would be a great accomplishment for Romania to have works on the main rail network completed and the rest of the remaining 3,600 kilometres modernized, so that trains may run at 160 kilometres an hour. Of course there are high-speed trains in Europe, in France, for instance, running at 540 kilometres an hour. Still I believe there is room for development in Romania’s railway network”.
(Translated by C. Mateescu & D. Bilt)