Georgi Gvozdeykov, Minister of Transport and Communications: When you stand at the start, you don’t think about where you’re going to hit, you think about how to get to the finish line the fastest

Interview of Minister Georgi Gvozdeykov for the newspaper 24 Hours, the conversation was conducted by Mariana Boykova

BDZ Holding is inefficient, I cannot let it manage the new service of the railway.

The truck parks should be built by the state. 


Mr Gvozdeykov , in the first minutes of your taking office, you said that you would have a programme with short-term goals and quick results, because nobody would wait. You have been a minister for a month, are you fulfilling it? 

The first goal I started with was to fix the administrative process in the ministry, because it had stopped in 1985. Digitalization is zero, the ministry has software, a document management system, but it turned out that no one uses it and everything is on paper. I started signing 500 pages and wondered what was going on. I counted on one sheet, there were 9 signatures to reconcile, and I wanted to know who the people were that were spreading all this paper flow around the 17 story building. It turned out that they were not using the electronic document management system. 

What did they tell you? 

That when a file came from the prosecutor’s office, the documents were requested on paper. 

Great discomfort you have caused. 

Great, yes. I hope in 20 days everything will be put in the new order. This is the most short-term goal. The other one that we have set ourselves is to review all the procurement under the recovery and resilience plan. 

Why? Everyone who comes stops the orders of the predecessor and so things go back half a year or a year. You could leave tomorrow, and you could be out 4 yerrs. The next one could also stop orders. 

When you are implementing a procedure under the PPA and even more so when this project is funded under the plan, there are procedures that have to be followed. When they are not, it means that you have violated the whole process and is a prerequisite for further sanctions, for example from the EC. The projects have not gone through the National Fund of the Ministry of Finance for an opinion, which is a mandatory condition. The second violation is that the project includes things that have nothing to do with the delivery of new rolling stock. 

Are you talking about the procedure for BGN 3 billion for new trains? 

Yes, there is no requirement in the plan to use national funding, and the previous caretaker government had envisaged building 4 repair bases. And this without a feasibility study and without any estimated values. It says whichever contractor wins the contract is required to do the maintenance at those repair facilities and pay rent to the state. They should be ready by the end of 2025. According to rough estimates, this will cost BGN 150-170 million , which should be provided by the state. 90% of all appeals are for this element. Now we are going to clear these vices. At the end of the week, the deadline for appeal expires. We are refining the documents and restarting them. In the procedure for shunting locomotives we are splitting into two positions, we will use 9 locomotives on battery only and 9 combined locomotives - electric and battery. This also fully covers the requirements and needs of the state, while also saving significant financial resources here. 

Building and upgrading transport infrastructure requires time that may well exceed that of ministers. What will you continue? 

I have focused on building the infrastructure. This is a slow process, financial instruments are used for different programmes and projects. The biggest problem at the moment is in the section Elin Pelin - Kostenets on the Sofia - Plovdiv railway line. 

It has been postponed for a second programming period, what is the problem? 

The difficulties lie in the implementation of a number of complex facilities, including the construction of the several tunnels. In the feasibility study and preparation of the project documentation there are serious problems that require additional funding to overcome all the processes related to geology. The financial contingency for the entire lot, which is built into every major project, will be fully utilized only for the large tunnel in the Vacarel area. There is a possibility for additional financing, but it must be solidly defended before the EC so that there are no doubts. I have ordered a very precise analysis and documentation to prove that there is a design flaw both in terms of cost and value. 

How much higher is the top-up amount? 

From BGN 70 million to 90 million. I have already had a meeting with the Turkish company and am familiar with the case. They say groundwater is coming up and a lot of money has been put into reinforcement so far. We need to finish in 2026 with this project as well. In the rest of the route to Burgas we are on schedule. I will do my best in 2026 to have new trains and new infrastructure, because this will give a new look to transport. 

Do you know how many years we’ve been writing this railroad? 

To be honest, I haven’t taken a train in Bulgaria since 1995. But traveling by car in the country, I see what used to be. Last time I rode a Skoda locomotive was in the early 1970s, which means we’re going back 50 years from the normal European world. My last train journey from Cologne to Frankfurt was last November -220 km in 1 hour and 20 minutes. Most of the way the speed was 250 km. We also have that capacity here, and I asked myself why it is not the same here. The next step is, when we have modern rail transport and it becomes attractive, to make connectivity with electric cars at stations in places that are smaller, to have a charging station built. This is my concept of rail transport and the problem is that things can’t happen today. Nor after a month. I hope those who come after us will enjoy what we have achieved.

 What do the carriers want, you had a meeting? 

The ministry makes the policies but doesn’t really have the levers to manage road transport. In practice, the ministry exercises control, can propose changes to the laws and does nothing more than train drivers and control freight, bus and taxi services. Our big goal is Schengen and sooner or later we will achieve it. And then we will be the last EU border with Turkey and Serbia and without borders with Romania and Greece. Without borders, traffic through Bulgaria cannot be regulated in and out. In the Schengen countries, it is regulated domestically. We do not have buffer parking lots. Recently, I have often been told - now that you are a minister, I want you to stop the trucks on weekends to ease traffic. But the question is where to put them. 

For decades 24 Hours has been demanding to stop the cars at the weekend and to have parking lots, but there are none. 

In order to stop the tyres, there must be room for them. We can find the places. It is a question of organisation, land is allocated, a state company is created to manage it. 

Are the parking lots supposed to be government? So far, it has relied on private initiative, and it has not shown interest. 

Building the buffer parking should be state policy. This is part of the traffic organization in the country, part of the traffic. We have to regulate it with rules. And the only way to regulate it and have a level playing field is through the state. 

Specifically what are you planning? 

I am planning serious measures, to look for land around the highways, to find the right places, because tomorrow, when we are accepted into Schengen, there must be a solution. I need time to organize people in the ministry to work on this project, with the Ministry of Regional Development to see the locations and procedures for expropriation. 

Will you succeed while you are a minister? 

When I entered the ministry, I didn’t think about when I would leave. It can be in the afternoon, no problem. As an athlete (car racer - ed.), when you stand at the start, you don’t think about where you are going to hit, you think about how to get to the finish line the fastest. I’m in to get the job done, not to think about when I’ll leave. 

Congratulations on introducing interactive videos for the theory driving test. A change is also being prepared for the route choice practical tests. But what else do you foresee in the area of training to reduce road deaths? 

Solving the problem must start in school. When you turn 18, it’s too late. I can tell you hand on heart that I am an extremely disciplined driver. I don’t even allow myself to drive on the highway at 140 km per hour. And I want to be economical. When I’m travelling on the motorway and it’s raining, I find it very strange seeing a woman overtaking me at 160km. People don’t really realize that they’re not in control of the car at that point. Unless we kill these vices out of our heads, we will not achieve results and will continue to kill ourselves. 

And how will you deal with more heavy tasks - the railways and the post offices? 

In terms of the railways, there has been a model of management with BDZ Holding for 20 years. This structure has proven that it is not good at governance. At the moment we can’t do miracles with the existing service. We can patch seats, partially repair wagons. But the time is coming for new rolling stock for BGN 3 billion, there will be new infrastructure for 160 km per hour, Burgas will be reached from Sofia in 2-3 hours. We want passenger flow. If we do not take steps to change the model, will BDZ Holding be able to cope with this resource that it has to manage. I think this holding is inefficient and we need to allow the two companies, passenger and freight, to have operational independence, to make their strategies for developing the business model and to say - we are ready and we can manage with our teams. I cannot afford to leave this form of government, which is totally depreciated. It’s like putting Boeing’s software on Ann 2. 

 Bulgarian Post is losing money, how are you going to save them? 

The company is facing a catastrophe with a loss of BGN 72 million and negative capital. There is state aid of BGN 50 million , which does not solve the problem, but is a solid basis to find a solution to the crisis. A recovery plan is being developed, which is a requirement of the EC. It will provide a vision on how to stabilise the company. We will make investments in it like software, equipment and find the niche where it will be effective. The post offices have a base that exceeds that of the courier companies, but we cannot manage it. How it has come to this, I do not want to comment, let’s look ahead. There is an option with a change in the law to throw a lifeline - to see if the state administration will not be serviced by Bulgarian Post. This works in some European countries. 

Are you going to give them a safe market for their social services? 

This is the quickest way - to give them a market that will allow them to breathe. Every BGN 50 million will be spent in a targeted way and on a specific item. If we miss the moment now, I do not want to be the minister under whom the post offices will go bankrupt. It will not be easy, the results will be seen in time, but we must stop this situation now. 

Why are you refusing the two helicopters that were on order? 

HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Services) is not populism. This is a serious area, which is done according to European rules. Bulgaria is a beneficiary of the recovery plan to build the entire air ambulance system. Processes have been going on for a year now, there is a contract signed for 6 new helicopters, the first one will come in December. We have selected the six pilots who will go for training, plus three engineers from the technical staff. We have concentrated our efforts to bring the State Aviation Operator into compliance with the Civil Aviation Act and secondly with the European Regulation and to become an aviation operator that has the rights to operate and carry out this activity. As for the contract to be signed, it is a service contract - to fly 2 helicopters and crews. This is outsourcing. Why is it done?

Because there was a public impatience to rescue people by air. 

HEMS will not happen in one day and with one contract. As I’ve said before, the system is made up of three equations - we have flying, infrastructure and emergency medical services. If one component doesn’t work, the whole system doesn’t work. This contract provides one component - two helicopters with pilots, which cost the Bulgarian taxpayer BGN 20 million for 2 years. We will receive nothing because we do not currently have a single licensed site that would accept such a helicopter. The HEMS system requires the helicopter to be on the scene in 20 minutes and the casualty to be in hospital for a maximum of 40 minutes. If the machine is in Sofia, but it is needed in Varna, it will fly for an hour and a half. The system will not happen in a day or two because we are starting from scratch. 

But lives are being lost. 

And why wasn’t it made in the years back? You ask why I won’t sign. In December the first helicopter arrives. Then we will have our first base in Sofia. I’d rather we put the money towards building the system, training the crews. 

*** CV

  • Master, engineer in aviation engineering and technology, PhD student at the Georgi Benkovski Air School Academy in Dolna Mitropolia.
  • Aviation engineer, entrepreneur and member of the 47th National Assembly. He was Deputy Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Transport and Communications
  • From 1998 to 2011 he was a professional motor sport racer. Champion of Bulgaria 2003.
  • From 2008 to 2013 he established and managed his own business for designing and constructing ethnographic houses built in an ecological way
  • From 2014 to 2018 he created and led a project related to the training and education of young rally drivers
  • From 2018 to 2021, he will work at DG Civil Aviation Administration

From August 2022 to February 2023, he will lead Bulgaria Heli Med Services EAD, a sole joint stock company established by the state to provide air transport for the needs of emergency medical care