An interview with Lyudmil Ivanov, PhD, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Railway Signalling, Automation, Telecommunication and Industry Association (RASTIA)
With the growing demand for increased mobility of people and goods Bulgaria's crossroad position in Europe can be a blessing. So far, however, the country has lagged in modernising its railways. We talk with Lyudmil Ivanov, PhD, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Railway Signalling, Automation, Telecommunication and Industry Association (RASTIA), about how and why Bulgaria should develop its railways.
Dear Mr Ivanov, what is RASTIA and what is its main goal?
RASTIA is an association of individuals and legal entities working for digitisation and modernisation of railway infrastructure and vehicles in Bulgaria. Its main goal is to improve the condition of railway infrastructure and services, and the overall improvement of Bulgarian railway transport competitiveness.
What are the biggest challenges in front of digitisation of rail transportation in Bulgaria and how can they be overcome?
The main challenges are the need to modernise obsolete and outdated technology in railway infrastructure and to implement the most advanced systems for train movement safety and management.
Interestingly, as of early 2021, several hundreds of kilometres of railway lines (from Septemvri to the border with Turkey) were equipped with GSM-R technology. The same technology is planned or under construction for several hundred more kilometres (from Dragoman to Burgas and from Sofia to Gyueshevo). According to Unife and UIC, the companies will stop production of the GSM-R technology in 2025, and will terminate its maintenance as early as 2030. Migration from 2G (100Kbit/s) to 5G (100Mbit/s) technologies will happen soon, and so will the implementation of Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS). The upcoming railway mobile communication system is the world telecommunication system of the future. It was designed by UIC in close cooperation with all stakeholders in the railway sector as a successor of GSM-R and as a key factor for digitisation of railway transport. It is crucial to not invest in obsolete technologies and to keep up with the EU's vision for implementation of FRMCS.
What should Bulgaria do to become a part of the shared European railway space and which infrastructure projects are crucial to achieve this?
Bulgaria needs to cooperate with its neighbours to construct the main destinations via framework contracts that cover financial parameters, construction deadlines, unified technical specifications. To achieve an European connectivity, European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) level 2 and even level 3 should be installed along all main railway destinations. Having finished lines with installed ERTMS systems for management of train movement is crucial. It will allow a train that departs from Budapest to arrive trouble-free at Plovdiv's intermodal terminal, for example.
Bulgaria can become a preferred transit destination and can benefit from this only when the modernisation of the Sofia-Gyueshevo-Skopje, Budapest-Vidin-Kulata-Thessaloniki and Belgrade-Sofia-Istanbul destinations is finished.
In the next couple of years the National Plan for Rehabilitation and Sustainability, funded with over 1 billion leva for modernisation and digitisation of railway infrastructure and purchase of vehicles, will significantly improve the safety and quality of transport services. The funds should be targeted as well to investment in complex and complete solutions regarding the main railway destinations.
It is time for real action!
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