November 28, 2013 2 Comments
The Talgo trains, made in Spain, belong to the high-end trains rolling around Europe, North America and Asia. They travel at high speeds on conventional tracks and offer comfortable intercity and international travel. Bosnia (together with Kazachstan and Uzbekistan) has nine such trains (bought in , so far the good news. While the website of the railways of the Bosnian Federation (ZFBiH, there is no single Bosnian rail company) even has a link to Talgo reserations (including the tempting offer to travel in time: Register for a free Ride from 1/Nov/2010 to 31/Dec/2011), none of the trains is going anywhere. The trains had some test runs, but never entred service. Instead, the trains have been languishing for years in Sarajevom, partly in storage, partly in the open. When they were tested, they achieved the incredible maximum speed of 70km per hour. Of course, for such great speeds, it is necessary to have a train that can go 220 km per hour… Samir Kadrić from the railways of the Federation described it “as if you bought nine Ferarris and you don’t have roads to drive them on”. Besides old tracks and no realistic plan to improve them to anywhere close to the speeds the Talgo can travel, it took years to negotiate the use of the train with neighboring countries and meanwhile, the train to Belgrade no longer operates and there is only one train per day that takes 9 hours for the journey. Now the railway company does not have the money to maintain the trains, so they are not even riding at 70 km per hour, but just standing and waiting. The Talgo thus share the same fate as the Croatian-made Končar trains the ZFBiH bought in 2009 to run local lines and which the company now seeks to return to Croatia. Just for the Talgo trains, the ZFBiH payed 67.5 mio Euro which is tries to pay for by renting the trains to Turkey.
There is hardly a better metaphor for what is wrong in Bosnia today. The country cannot move on, or only at the speed of 19th century train travel in 40-year old run down cars. The alternative is there (and even paid for) but there is no plan, no will and no resources to accelerate. Instead of leapfrogging several train-generations (or in extension reforms) with the Talgo, the episode highlights that Bosnia needs new tracks, and not just for trains. The fact that nobody had to resign over this affair that raises suspicions not just about tremedous stupidity, but also corruption, also is indicative of how the scale of bad governance has created an incredible degree of hopelessness in the country.