Georgi Gvozdeykov, Minister of Transport and Communications: We are actively working for the digitalization of services

Interview of Minister Georgi Gvozdeykov for the magazine Logistika, the conversation was conducted by Ralitsa Rusinova 

Mr. Gvozdeykov, when will there be effective use of e-vouchers in Bulgaria? What should businesses expect in the short and long term in terms of digitising document flow in transport? 

The digitisation of the services that businesses use every day is a process we are actively working on. The electronic consignment note will significantly relieve companies and save time and resources, significantly improving control by the state.
Its implementation is a process that is still at the level of the European Union, where common technical and operational standards are being developed for all countries, as well as rules ensuring compatibility. The Commission recognises the complexity of the introduction of the electronic consignment note, which is why a preparatory period until 2026 is foreseen.

If the EC publishes the information by the end of this year, we will start the real work of preparing our administrations to accept and process electronic freight information.

The highest readiness for the implementation of the electronic bill of lading is in the seaports, where the process of digitalization in cargo handling is in its final phase. By the end of the year, the State Enterprise Port Infrastructure will introduce the National Electronic Information Exchange System in Bulgarian seaports. Initially, parallel use of electronic and paper waybills is envisaged. Then we start expanding the use of the e-way bill.

What actions have been taken to organise faster passage of freight vehicles through Bulgarian BCPs and to improve cross-border rail freight crossings?

At the end of September the real implementation of the project for a third bridge over the Danube, which has been talked about for more than 20 years, started. We have submitted a joint project with Romania under the Connecting Europe Facility to carry out feasibility studies for a second bridge between Ruse and Giurgiu. This is, in fact, the beginning of a strategically important project not only for our two countries, but for the whole of Europe. With the studies we will analyse the different routes and the points where the bridge will start in Ruse and Giurgiu respectively. This will assist in the selection of a technical solution.

In the shorter term, the opening of the Ruse - Giurgiu ferry is an important step, which is expected to take about 25% of the traffic currently on the bridge.

In terms of connectivity with Turkey, we are focused on opening another rail crossing between the two countries. It will significantly ease traffic through the existing Svilengrad-Kapakule crossing, which is the only link between the two countries. We are studying what would be the benefits of restoring the railway line Yambol - Elhovo, as well as its extension to Lesovo and the Turkish border. The National Railway Infrastructure Company has already commissioned a pre-investment study, which should analyse different route options.

In parallel, work is underway on the modernisation of the railway infrastructure along the entire route from the Serbian to the Turkish border, as well as on the establishment of a rail link between Bulgaria and North Macedonia. These are complex and complicated projects that take years, but finding a solution for the Deve Bair tunnel, which is the rail link to North Macedonia, would be a significant step forward in this direction.

What does the Ministry of Transport envisage for the development of the infrastructure of the ports operated by state operators - Port Varna and Port Ruse?

As I have said before, the best way to grow efficiently and attract more investment in ports is through public-private partnership mechanisms such as concession.

The war in Ukraine and the problems with shipping on the Danube and the Black Sea, which have changed the route of cargo, require better connectivity between the ports of Ruse and Varna to ensure an alternative for transit cargo traffic to and from Central European countries to the Black Sea. This opens up new opportunities for investment along this route and gives additional added value to both ports.

On the other hand, the governments of Bulgaria and Greece are working hard to build the Aegean-Black Sea-Danube multimodal corridor, of which these two ports are part. The implementation of this regional initiative will attract additional cargo that will benefit the Bulgarian economy.

How will the state support the construction of intermodal terminals? Isn’t it better to facilitate investors in such facilities instead of the state building and then giving them on concession?

The Transport Connectivity Programme 2021-2027 provides 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.

I expect the parameters of the scheme to be clarified by the end of the year, after which we will send a notification to the European Commission, which is in relation to state aid rules. I hope that these procedures will be completed quickly and that we will open the application scheme next year.

How will the ministry get BDZ out of the financial quagmire it is in? How will the recovery of BDZ be implemented?

In order to stabilise BDZ’s financial situation, work needs to be done in two directions - optimising the company’s costs and increasing passengers and freight. This is the task I have given the new management.

Many of the trains currently running are over 50 years old, and travel is slow because of the many infrastructure projects that have been delayed for years.

To attract more passengers we need to finally start the process of buying new trains. At the beginning of September we announced the procedures for the procurement of rolling stock under the Recovery and Resilience Plan. These trains will indeed give BDZ a breath of fresh air, but they will provide only half of the rolling stock needed. So we are already looking at other options for buying new train sets or hiring them. Our ambition is to improve the quality of the service in 2024 and Bulgarians to ride on new trains.