Georgi Gvozdeykov, Minister of Transport and Communications: The most important CEF project, for which we are waiting for the decision of the European Commission, is the study for a second bridge Ruse - Giurgiu

Interview of Minister Georgi Gvozdeykov for the newspaper Stroitel, the talk was conducted by Desislava Bakardzhieva

The BCC is a long-standing partner of the state in discussions on the development of infrastructure connectivity


Minister Gvozdeykov, what is your assessment for 2023? What were the main topics you worked on? What do you count as a success and what did you not have enough time for? What will be the focus of your efforts in 2024?

For those six months at the head of the ministry, every day started with a new topic and problem to solve. From the emergency air aid through BDZ and Bulgarian Post EAD to the orders for new trains and the delayed railway projects we have seen. However, we managed to find a solution to every situation and in the end I would say that we managed the processes efficiently.

In the coming year, there will be developments in some very important projects in the transport sector - Bulgaria will now have emergency air assistance and we will not be one of the few countries in the European Union that has not yet built this system. For me, this is also a personal cause for which I have invested a lot of effort and time, and I am glad that the first results of this work are already visible.

It is also key that in 2024 we have contracts with contractors to purchase the new trains under the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRSP). I would say that this will now be the real reform of the railway that people have been waiting for. In parallel, we are exploring absolutely all options to purchase rolling stock as early as 2024 to stop this permanent shortage of trains and locomotives. A few days ago BDZ signed a contract for 10 new Siemens Smartron locomotives and we expect to receive the first of them at the end of next year.

Bulgarian Post is the other big topic. When I joined the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) in June, we had to take very quick action because of the loan from the European Commission. You know, their condition for this financial assistance was to prepare a restructuring and recovery plan for the company. We presented it to the EC back in September, and in 2024 we are going to develop the portfolio of services that will be offered by the post offices and also increase their market share in courier services.

How does OP Transport and Transport Infrastructure 2014-2020 end? Has the entire budget of the operational programme been used and are the results generally positive?

The work on OPTTI 2014-2020 is not over yet because our goal is to use literally every day until the end of the year. The commissioning of the completed projects and the disbursement of the funds are also to take place. So I can say that to date the amount of funds disbursed is close to BGN 3 billion, but this number will change significantly.

Our aim is to absorb the maximum amount of the OPTTI and to complete the 2014-2020 programming period with very small losses compared to the total budget.

We are expecting the Zheleznitsa tunnel of Struma Motorway to be officially put into operation any moment. Also at the end of November, as part of the measures for the use of the free resources under OPTTI, the construction of 6 km and 6 metro stations of Metro Line 3 started. This is the stretch from  Shipka Street to  Tsarigradsko shose Blvd.

We have already paid about BGN 278 million in energy compensation for small and medium enterprises.

Another part of the projects have been phased and their implementation will continue in the new programming period under the Transport Connectivity Programme 2021-2027.

How do you assess the development of TCP 2021-2027? What projects will be able to start in 2024?

It is very important that in 2024 there will be a serious movement on the projects set out in the TCP, because we are already in the third year of the programming period, and you know that these are some of the largest projects in the country. In the rail sector, many of the projects are phased out of OPTTI 2014-2020, so there will be no disruption there.

One part of the project for the Ruse - Veliko Tarnovo motorway has already started in the road axis. I believe there will be contracts with contractors for the other sections in 2024.

A month ago we launched a dredging project in part of the Burgas port, which will also continue in the new programming period.

What infrastructure projects will be implemented with Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) funds in the period 2021-2027?

The most important project, for which we are waiting for the decision of the European Commission in early 2024, is the study for a second bridge Ruse - Giurgiu. Together with Romania, we submitted in September a joint project for a feasibility study for a second bridge between Ruse and Giurgiu over the Danube. With this, we have practically started the process of building a second combined road and railway bridge over the  Danube river at Ruse. And it is no longer just a good intention.

The other key project is FAST Danube, which is again joint with the Romanian side. It aims to improve the navigation conditions in the common Bulgarian-Romanian section of the Danube river. We have until the end of January 2024 to submit the project, which is the deadline for this call for projects under the CEF.

In the railway sector, the National Railway Infrastructure Company plans to submit a project for modernisation of the railway section from Vidin to Sracimir, which is part of the Vidin-Sofia railway line. This line is in great need of investment to modernise it and we hope that part of the funds will come from the Connecting Europe Facility.

More than EUR 5.5 million were awarded to two Bulgarian projects for the construction of 5G connectivity along the trans-European transport corridor Orient/Eastern Mediterranean. High-speed connectivity will be ensured along transport networks and border regions.

On what other projects to improve transport connectivity does the MoTC interact with our neighbouring countries?

Since the beginning of the mandate, the whole government has been actively working to improve transport connectivity with neighbouring countries. Because of the geopolitical situation in Europe, a serious emphasis is currently being placed on strengthening North-South links, as they provide an alternative to crossing the Black Sea. We are in very active talks with our colleagues from Greece and Romania and our goal is to make the most of the EU financial support to finance strategic projects for which funds are not yet available. Such a project is, for example, the third bridge over the Danube.

What are the ministry’s plans for developing intermodal terminal projects?

The Transport Connectivity Programme 2021-2027 includes funding for such projects, which will be allocated under a separate scheme to support intermodal operators. It will allow the financing of activities related to the development of intermodal transport and the budget foreseen is EUR 20 million.

We are currently working on the preparation of the criteria for the call for proposals and I expect to open the measure for applications by mid-2024.

You mentioned the National Recovery and Resilience Plan rolling stock delivery project, tell us more about the progress on that. What other investments will the MoTC be able to make under the NRRP?

The situation with the four orders for new rolling stock is very dynamic. With regard to the 18 shunting locomotives under one item, we are about to conclude a contract with the selected contractor, and under the item for 9 combined machines (electric and battery) the submitted offers do not meet the technical requirements and therefore the procedure is terminated. It is to be reopened.

In the tender for 20 push-pull trains, two non-responsive bids were submitted. For this reason it has been terminated and, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Procurement Act, we are about to resume it as a direct negotiated procedure. We are currently awaiting the appeal deadlines, after which we plan to invite companies to negotiate and agree on the requirements so set out.

The Commission for Protection of Competition ruled in favour of the complainant in the tender for 35 trains and we will not appeal this decision to the Supreme Administrative Court because we cannot afford to waste any more time in appeal procedures. A working group is about to refine the technical specification, with the aim of cleaning up the requirements to the level of common European requirements. The procedure will then be reopened with a deadline for submission of tenders of one month.

The order for 7 double-decker trains is to be reopened and the submission of tenders is to be completed in accordance with the timeframe in which the procedure was suspended. My expectation is that we will open the bids before mid-January.

In November, we signed an agreement with the Ministry of Finance to implement an investment of nearly BGN 470 million to build and improve connectivity in remote and sparsely populated areas of the country. Nearly 400 000 Bulgarians and 140 municipalities, where connectivity is not well developed, will have access to high-speed internet.

What is your vision for port infrastructure development?

State Enterprise Port Infrastructure implements a number of activities and projects related to the modernization of ports and increasing their level of competitiveness. Work is also underway to accelerate the transition to the construction of shore-side power supply for ships in Bulgarian sea and river ports.

Projects are also being implemented to increase the capacity of Bulgarian ports in terms of draught and therefore what ships can be handled in Bulgaria. With EU funds, major investments will be made in both sea and river ports in the next few years.

Will the 2024 budget of the Ministry of Transport and Communications allow you to carry out the necessary reforms in the troubled state-owned enterprises for which the ministry is responsible?

I have repeatedly said that real reforms can be made when there is funding for them. The Ministry has already approved a budget for next year and I can say that we have managed to protect a financial framework that is a really good basis for the necessary reforms in companies and agencies.

In July 2023, you held a meeting with the leadership of the Bulgarian Construction Chamber of Builders (BCC). On what issues will you partner with the industry organization in the new year?

The BCC has been a long-standing partner of the state both in discussions on the development of infrastructure connectivity and in achieving transport policy objectives. The cooperation between the representatives of the construction industry and the executive is fruitful and I believe it will be built upon in the future.

What would you wish to the readers and the team of the newspaper Stroitel for the New 2024?

I wish the readers of the newspaper Stroitel and the entire team of the publication good health and professional success! And hopefully, over the next 12 months, you will keep covering more and more good projects for the benefit of society and the country’s economy.