Albania rebuilds its railways with financial and technical support from the EU—and cuts emissions

Trains between the central Albanian city of Vorë and the border with Montenegro travel at an average speed of just 50 km per hour along a rail track that has suffered decades of neglect. As part of the country’s sustainable growth strategy, the government is investing in the modernisation of its rail network, a plan that will cut emissions, improve safety and slash journey times.

The EU-backed rehabilitation of a 120 km stretch between the central city of Vorë and the border with Montenegro is a crucial step in the programme.

“The EU-funded Vorë-Hani i Hotit railway line will bring faster and safer travel for both cargo and passengers along the Adriatic coast,” says André Rizzo, chargé d’affaires of the EU delegation to Albania. “It will boost connectivity for people and trade in Albania, in the Western Balkans region, and with the European Union.”

Electrified tracks with new signalling and communications systems

The project involves electrification of the line and new telecommunication, signalling and safety systems. It will more than double the average speed of trains on the line, from 50 kmh at present to up to 120 kmh upon completion.

As part of the European Commission’s Economic and Investment Plan, it benefits from an EU financial package consisting of a €100 million loan from the European Investment Bank, a €126 million investment grant from the Western Balkans Investment Framework, and a €98.75 million loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

As an extension of the core TEN-T Mediterranean Corridor, the Vorë-Hani i Hotit railway line connects Tirana with Podgorica, and further to Europe’s major railway network.

It’s part of the government’s plan to restore about 420 km of track that branches north and east from the city of Durrës. Built mainly between 1947 and 1987, Albania’s rail infrastructure has been deteriorating gradually due to lack of funds and insufficient maintenance. This situation has been exacerbated by the devastating earthquake that hit the country in 2019.

Now, Albania is looking to modernize, rebuild and electrify over 75% of its rail network over the course of the next decade.

Major financer of the rail sector in the Western Balkans

“Following the Tirana-Durrës railway line with its branching in Rinas, the Vorë-Hani i Hotit railway line represents the Albanian government’s second major project in railway transport,” says Belinda Balluku, Albania’s deputy prime minister and minister of infrastructure and energy.

“The European Investment Bank remains one of our most important partners in realizing several strategic projects regarding road and rail infrastructure,” she says.

With over €1.9 billion invested in Western Balkans railways to date, the EU's financing arm is one of the biggest financiers of the sector in the region. Along with the financing, experts from the JASPERS advisory programme, which is funded by the European Commission and the European Investment Bank, developed an action plan to strengthen capacity for managing railway infrastructure projects in Albania.

“Our advisory support has created an enabling environment within the railway company for improving their skills and for getting the rail back on track,” said Jakubik Denis, JASPERS task manager of the assignment.

“This should have a positive impact on the country, contributing also to the gradual integration of the Albanian railways into the European railway network and market, as well as to the EU accession process of the country.”

The plan focuses on rebuilding and modernising the railway sections between Durrës and Tirana (including a new link to Tirana’s airport), Vorë and Han i Hotit, Durrës and Rrogozhinë, and Rrogozhinë and Pogradec, and also a new cross-border link with North Macedonia. The Albanian authorities welcomed the plan and committed to seeing it through.

Sustainable mobility is the heart of sustainable growth

“Our joint efforts will strengthen the connection between Albania, the region and the European Union, while promoting sustainable mobility that lays the foundation for a smart, resilient, safe and inclusive rail network in the country and the region,” says EIB Vice President Kyriacos Kakouris, who is responsible for the Western Balkans region.

Once the railway modernisation plan is complete, tourists and locals will be able to travel smoothly across the country – from pristine coastline to charming mountain villages – by train.