TASR - Teraz.sk, 8.8.2013 EN

Mihok: Broad-gauge Railway Will Reduce Gap between West and East

Bratislava, August 8 (TASR) - Extending the broad-gauge railway line from Cierna nad Tisou (Kosice region) through Slovakia to Vienna would have geopolitical importance, and dropping the project would have a negative impact on the country's competitiveness, TASR was told on Thursday by Peter Mihok, chairman of the Slovak Commerce and Industry Chamber (SOPK) and the World Chambers Federation of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).
      "As long as oil and gas are transferred through Slovakia, Russia will have the decisive position, as the transit direction is one-way. Nonetheless, if the broad-gauge railway is built, transit will be two-way, with Slovakia also acquiring a significant role in the process, as the country will be part of the flow of products between Russia, Asia and Europe," asserted Mihok.
      The project, also supported by the European Commission, is currently subject to a feasibility study, which is expected to be completed either by the end of this year or in the first half of 2014 at the latest. The study will among other matters deal with the location of a freight terminal in the Vienna-Bratislava area.
      "The freight terminal will be located not in Vienna, as often presented in the media, but most probably at the already existing industrial park in Kittsee or in Parndorf (both just over the border in Burgenland state). This would be the cheapest option for Austria and the most favourable one for Slovakia in terms of economic, strategic and geo-political location," said advocate Jana Martinkova, citing Austrian sources. Martinkova has been concerned with the project for years.
      SOPK maintains that if the terminal is built in the Slovak border area, this could be beneficial not only for Bratislava, but for the whole of the country. Additionally, the project is expected to contribute towards reducing the gap between the west and east of Slovakia. "Such a large infrastructure-related project across the whole area of Slovakia will bring commissions for Slovak firms, which will then translate into increases in employment in the east and the south of Slovakia [most significantly affected by high unemployment rates - ed. note]," said Mihok.
      The project has long been criticised by the Opposition, which claims that hundreds of jobs will be lost in eastern Slovakia in the process. "Slovakia can't afford to finance such a project from the state budget at the moment. It's insane to fund a project that will deprive many Slovaks of work with the money of Slovak taxpayers," said SDKU-DS deputy chair Viliam Novotny, adding that around 1,500 jobs may be put in jeopardy by the project. The vice-chair observed that this will concern people working at reloading sites in the areas of Cierna nad Tisou, Velke Kapusany and Kralovsky Chlmec (all in the eastern-most parts of Kosice region).
      Mihok believes, however, that the Opposition hasn't grasped the whole meaning behind the philosophy of the project. "The whole of Slovakia and Kosice alone may benefit in a considerable way from the increases in product-flow volumes in both directions, taking advantage of the capacity provided by the regional traffic hub in Cierna nad Tisou," said the SOPK head.
      Martinkova added that the reloading site at Cierna nad Tisou employs more than 1,000 people and is engaged mainly in reloading powdered materials, the volume of which will remain the same and may even grow after the line is completed. "That's why it's not possible in fact that all the employees, or most of them, would lose their jobs. After the broad-gauge railway with its connections to Asian markets has been completed, the volume and the variety of transit will go up. Therefore, it's more than realistic to expect that the current number of jobs at the reloading site will be retained," said the advocate.