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Minister Says Yes to 2nd Rail Track to Koper, Wants to Halve Costs (adds)

Ljubljana, 18 October (STA) - Infrastructure and Spatial Planning Minister Samo Omerzel announced Friday that the second railway line between the sea port of Koper and the Divača inland hub would be built after all, while adding that the last cost estimate for the project, EUR 1.4bn, seemed exaggerated. $I dare claim that the second track can be built for half this price.$

The minister, who questioned in September the project's feasibility over the high price, told the press that Slovenia has an extraordinary strategic position, but that this alone is not enough. In order to make use of it, investments are necessary into infrastructure, not only railway infrastructure.

The second track is also important for the development of the Luka Koper seaport, said Omerzel, who has been taking flak from the port operator and trade unions after arguing that an upgrade of the existing single track on the 27-kilometre line, costing EUR 200-300m, would do the trick for another decade.

The minister announced that efforts would now be stepped up to secure a building permit, while parallel to that a review of the entire project documentation will be carried with the help an entirely independent international expert.

Omerzel explained that the ministry had examined similar projects at home and abroad and the solutions planned in the most recent documents that had led to the EUR 1.4bn estimate.

"I find this figure unacceptable. To invest EUR 1.4bn in 27 kilometres of railway is something that no financial and business model can digest. Given all the information we have, I dare claim that the second track can be built for half this price," the minister said.

Elaborating on how this is possible, he said that it is not always necessary to use the best technological solutions in the world and that construction works can be rationalised or some even scrapped as non-vital. "Once we factor all this in, we get to this price range."

The building permit is expected to be secured at the start of 2014, after which the search for the contractor will start.

According to present plans, the construction will take six years, he said, while explaining that investments into infrastructure take a bit longer to return, between 20 to 25 years.

As regards funding, Omerzel mentioned cohesion funds from the EU's new financial perspective 2014-2020. Another possibility is the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) and the third a public-private partnership.

"When speaking about a public-private partnership, we are speaking about bringing in a partner for the operational segment - thus not about the infrastructure."

The minister pointed to the idea about closer ties between Luka Koper and railways operator Slovenske Železnice, which was already discussed in the past and which he sees as useful since the two systems in fact cannot function separately.

The Koper-Divača project has long been slated as an infrastructure project of national importance designed to facilitate the development of the country's transport industry and its only sea port.

The idea to build the second railway link between Koper and Divača, located in the south-west of the country, goes back to the mid 1990s, but the government backed its zoning plans in 2005.

The lengthy process of buying the necessary land and changes to the zoning plans then delayed the project.

As a result Slovenia missed the opportunity to secure EU funds for the project in the 2007-2013 budgetary period.

The government has nevertheless already spent almost EUR 40m on the project.

Doubts about it were however voiced already by Omerzel's predecessor.

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