The European Investment Bank (EIB) is lending 200 million euro to Slovakia's railway company ZSR (Zeleznice Slovenskej Republiky), for upgrading the railway network. 120 million euro are to be disbursed in 1999 and the balance next year. Investments mainly cover improvements to a critical 30 km stretch between Zilina and the Polish border, the modernisation of the railways own telecommunications network, 35 new passenger railcars as well as the purchase or refurbishment of some 1800 freight wagons. The loan brings total EIB lending to projects in Slovakia to 865 million euro.

The Slovak railway network will be in the heart of the enlarged European Union since Slovakia is crossed by three railway TENs (Pan-European rail corridors IV, V and VI) linking Berlin, Warsaw and Prague with Bratislava, Budapest, Bucharest and Sofia. The investments thus help Slovakia to integrate with the neighbouring countries and with the European Union in particular. A restructuring programme launched by ZSR in parallel with the network improvements will benefit the Slovak economy and public finances. Developing a modern rail network is also vital for underpinning economic activity.'

Commenting on the loan, EIB Vice-President Wolfgang Roth said: ''Our loan for Slovakia's railways modernisation programme brings to nearly 500 million euro the total provided by the EIB this year for the development of an efficient rail network in the Central European countries which are to become full members of the EU in the near future. In the accession countries, the EIB has thus become the most important provider of funds for transport infrastructure in general and for the railways in particular.'

Since 1990, the EIB has lent some nearly 9.5 billion euro to projects in twelve Central and Eastern European countries: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, FYR Macedonia and Albania. In 1999 the EIB is planning to lend another 3 billion euro to projects in Central Europe. About half of this comes under a special Pre-Accession Facility set up to help the ten accession candidates in the region prepare for EU membership.

1 euro = 1.9553 DEM, 1.07420 USD, 0.666300 GBP.