The trains stopped, no one moved a finger

Vesna Damcevska
Vesna Damcevska. / Photo: Free Press

The trains stop, the transport suffers, the passengers demand another transport, and the authorities behave as if it is normal. Neither the Minister of Transport cut himself, nor the director of MZ-Transport said anything.

I would like to remind the older ones, and I would like to tell the "story" of the former railway traffic in this area to the younger ones, who may never have boarded a train. Sometimes you went everywhere by train - you sat in the compartment and passed an unforgettable road, a real adventure, to Zagreb, to the Adriatic Sea, Munich… Sometimes you traveled by train through Macedonia. There were those busbars, as if you were on a bus. They arrived on time, and the trip was comfortable and cheap. Of course, neither the tracks nor the speed of the trains could be suitable for today. So when the Chinese trains arrived, a joke circulated that it was as if you had bought a Mercedes to drive on a country cobblestone.

We have unjustifiably neglected the railways in this area, we have forgotten them. And trains are still a very efficient means of transportation around the world. In our country, the railway is in a catastrophic condition. Fewer and fewer people ride with it, and less and less goods are transported. The figures show that in 2010 1.512.000 passengers and 3.097.000 tons of goods were transported. Ten years later, passenger traffic has been reduced by six times - in 2020 there were 253.000 transported passengers and almost halved freight transport, or 1.744.000 tons. One may notice that last year was a pandemic year, but the numbers, especially for the transport of goods, are similar to previous years.

Railway restructuring has been talked about for decades. The former PTE (Railway Transport Company) has long been divided into two companies: AD Macedonian Railways - Transport and PE Macedonian Railways - Infrastructure. The idea is to keep the infrastructure as state-owned, and the transport to be privatized. Over the years, many studies have been done on that eventual privatization, many consultants have lined up and many have said that they are interested in entering the Macedonian railway traffic. And - so much! The result - just money spent. And maybe that's exactly what should have happened. Maybe no one really wanted to privatize transport, nor did they want to roll up their sleeves to have efficient rail traffic. Maybe whoever was sitting in the chair thought only of himself and the party that put him in that place.

These days we have again faced a complete interruption of the railway traffic. And, as if a fly did not crawl on anyone. Neither the Minister of Transport cut himself, nor did we see the director of MZ - Transport say anything. The trains stop, the freight transport suffers, the passengers no longer count on the trains, and the authorities behave as if it is a normal condition.

But with normal looks we said goodbye a long time ago. It would surely be ridiculous for someone from today's perspective to talk about the ambitions of the time when young people from all over Yugoslavia, including Macedonians, built the Brcko-Banovici railway in Bosnia and Herzegovina themselves, which this year celebrated 75 years of its existence. The fact is that someone once saw what he would leave behind, not what he would gain for himself. This is shown by the history of the Macedonian railway. In 1869, a Brussels banker, Baron Hirsch, was granted a concession to build the Thessaloniki-Skopje-Mitrovica railway. About 600 culverts for streams and rivers and six bridges over the Vardar were built along the railway with a total length of more than a thousand meters, and 1.500 workers worked on the Demir Kapija Gorge on the railway. The construction of the railway officially began on February 9, 1871 and lasted for three years - it was put into operation in August 1873. Today, 150 years later, it is inconceivable that such a grandiose work could be done in three years. The time has come when for the longest time that can be done is ten kilometers from the highway or, possibly, some "more complicated" roundabout.

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