ZURICH - As the political tensions slowly ease in the war-scarred Balkans, barriers to cargo transport in the region are starting to fall and overland transport alliances are expanding. Representatives of seven Balkan countries, including Yugoslavia and Croatia, signed an agreement in Switzerland last week to start lifting customs barriers that have tied up cargo traffic in the region since the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.
As those border hassles start to ease, overland transport alliances are forming. The Austrian rail system - Oesterreichischen Bundesbahnen (OBB) - today cemented a deal with the former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia that aims to speed transport of goods between central Europe and the Balkan region.Under that deal, OBB's Rail Cargo Austria rail freight division and the Slovenian railroad - called Slovenske Zeleznice (SZ) - are deepening their cooperation in rail cargo by means of a joint venture called Austrian-Slovenia Express.
The express cargo service will start operating early this year, connecting terminals in Austria with the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana and continuing on through Croatia to Sarajevo and other cities in the breakaway former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The new service is part of OBB's effort - in the wake of increasing competition from the German and Swiss rail systems - to expand its network in south-central Europe and the Balkans. OBB and SZ embarked on a project last year to build a multimodal logistics center near Ljubljana. In addition, the two railroads are improving rail connections to Koper, Slovenia's main Adriatic seaport.
Over the next five years, OBB executives hope to increase the Austrian railroad's cargo revenue by 50% by expanding its multimodal operations, taking over forwarders and forming rail alliances with other systems in Southern and Eastern Europe.
Robert Koenig can be reached at 011-41-31-352-3808.