Saturday, 3 October 2020

Continental Croatia Trains: Inland Opens Up With Green Travel

October 3, 2020 - With charter airlines in a state of flux and Croatia Railways beginning a renewal of their fleet in Slavonia, are continental Croatia trains the eco-friendly and best way to unlock the inland's amazing potential?

Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. Even before 2020 arrived, lifestyles and trends were headed in new directions. Eco-tourism and agro-tourism were two of the fastest-growing areas within the travel sector, this behaviour change a response to concerns about the environment. And nowhere in the country stands better poised to take advantage of this interest than continental Croatia.

ivo-biocinaCNTB.jpgImpossibly pretty Zagorje - the region lies just north of Zagreb and is accessible by continental Croatia trains © Ivo Biocina / Croatia National Tourist Board

From the impossibly pretty hills of Zagorje, the peaceful rivers of Karlovac county and the hidden vineyards that surround the capital Zagreb to the vast Pannonian flatlands that stretch to Slavonia, Baranya, Vukovar-Srijem and beyond, the varied topography of continental Croatia is wild, exciting and - by many - wholly undiscovered.

This is land where agriculture and nature thrive side by side, where the stresses of modern-day existence ebb away as you readjust to a way of life that would look mostly familiar to the people who lived here centuries ago. These are places where you can truly be at one with yourself and with your surroundings. In continental Croatia, you often find yourself in an environment that is both timeless and traditional, yet wholly contemporary in regards to its ecological aspirations. And you're never far away from an exciting city environment that you can dip into on a whim – not just Zagreb, but Osijek, Slavonski Brod, Karlovac, Sisak and Varaždin too.

kalendar04.jpgTo those who really know and love Croatia, Osijek is simply unmissable. It is both the capital of and the doorway to Slavonia and Baranya and should be more accessible by continental Croatia trains. Sadly, international transportation links to the city by air are also quite poor. Improvements in accessibility to Slavonia and Baranya by rail and road are imminent © Romulić & Stojčić

Unlocking the incredible potential of continental Croatia relies on getting the message out there and facilitating travel to these regions

In recent TCN features we have detailed that motorways within Croatia are among the best in Europe - once you're inside Croatia, travelling by car (or bus) between the regions couldn't be easier. We have also seen evidence of the huge interest in travelling here by rail and using continental Croatia trains.

Of all the modern methods of long-distance travel, rail is by far the most eco-friendly. What better way to begin an environmentally friendly holiday than by arriving on continental Croatia trains? When the country wisely decided to prioritise its internal motorway system, a modern and fast inter-regional rail network was put on the back burner. Nowhere suffers greater from this decision than continental Croatia.

Croatian Official Document uploaded to Wikipedia by Epepe.gifThe Croatian rail network © Croatian Official Document uploaded to Wikipedia by Epepe

The only high-speed line that currently exists in Croatia links Rijeka to Budapest, via Zagreb and Koprivnica. Planned improvements hope to cut journey times between Zagreb and its nearest coastal city to an hour. Same as it ever was - Rijeka was the first Croatian city to be connected internationally by rail. That line also ran into the heart of Austro-Hungary and facilitated upper-class travel to places like Opatija. But does it best benefit the country to invest in more links to the coast or in continental Croatia trains? Well, the inland is not being ignored. Upgrades are being made to continental Croatia trains.

IMG_8990.jpgThis impressive beast actually services the country's coast. But would more investment in the continental Croatia trains network better service more people and help unlock the inland to tourists? Around 70% of the country's inhabitants live in continental Croatia © HŽPP

The rail link between Zagreb and Slavonski Brod is so historic that it was once part of the four routes of the Orient Express. It has been maintained to a standard where you can make a relatively quick journey from the capital to Vinkovci via Slavonski Brod. The same cannot be said for rail travel to Osijek, the access point to Baranya and much more. So slow is the connection between Osijek and Zagreb that it has been possible over recent times to reach the Slavonian capital quicker by taking the train to Vinkovci, then the bus to Osijek, rather than travelling direct by rail.

Slavonija_Osijek0191.jpgOsijek train station. A renovation to the building is planned for the near future © Romulić & Stojčić

However, in February this year, Croatian Railways introduced four direct daily lines between Slavonski Brod and Osijek. And there will be a new tilting train line that will run between Zagreb to Osijek on Friday afternoon and from Osijek to Zagreb on Sunday afternoon, facilitating student travel. On October 15, the first low-floor train will run between Osijek and Vinkovci as an additional part of the renewal of their continental Croatia trains fleet in Slavonia. The welcome return of Croatia's second-oldest international rail line - linking Osijek to Pécs in Hungary, via Beli Manastir and Baranya - was introduced in late 2018.

23e1f08a601e02be10403fbc28ced968_XL.jpgA motorway stretch between Metković and Dubrovnik, integrating the Pelješac bridge and the Croatian segment of the European corridor are the final big remaining projects in a three-decade-long undertaking to give Croatia one of the best motorway networks in Europe. Should Croatia's rail network be next? © Hrvatske Autoceste

Access to Slavonia and Baranya will also be massively facilitated upon completion of the European corridor, which will connect North Europe to the Adriatic. Starting in Budapest, it necessitates the building of a bridge near Beli Manastir. Thereafter the motorway will pass by Osijek, connect to the Zagreb-Slavonia motorway near Lipovac, then pass through Bosnia and its capital Sarajevo and on to Ploče.

The removal of budget airline flights to the airport in Osijek remains a hindrance to attracting many international visitors to Slavonia and Baranya. However, with charter airlines facing the greatest uncertainty of all modes of transport at the current time, though their return is a must, it is perhaps now an ambition that should remain more long term. For the immediate future, improvements to rail travel look to be a brilliant way of opening up not only Slavonia, Baranya and Vukovar-Srijem, but also an eco-friendly access point capable of serving the whole of untapped continental Croatia.

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Thursday, 1 October 2020

Croatian Motorways Believes it Can Continue With Excellent Results

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes on the 30th of September, 2020, the obligation of Croatian motorways (Hrvatske ceste) is to take care of the entire network of state roads, which consists of more than 7200 kilometres in total. In the last four years, they have designed more than 530 kilometres of new state roads, of which 137 kilometres are city bypasses throughout Croatia, they built 116 kilometres of new roads, and reconstructed more than 405 kilometres of existing roads. In the same period, Croatian motorways was the second largest contracting authority in the Republic of Croatia.

"I'm proud to note that we've managed to improve traffic safety in the programme period in question. Namely, in 2019, we had a 13 percent increase in traffic, and as much as 12 percent fewer accidents with deaths. We have prepared and withdrawn 100 percent of the EU funds available to us from the "Competitiveness and Cohesion" Operational Programme. It goes without saying that the Ciovo bridge, which has been talked about for more than 50 years, occupies a special place here, and we finished it despite it being an almost hopeless situation. The Nin bridges which were destroyed during the great flood of 2017, were opened this year, much to the delight of all who had the opportunity to see them.

Every project in which we solve bottlenecks, especially around Split, Vodice, Rijeka or Vinkovci, are of special importance. The crown of all these projects is the historic project of building Peljesac Bridge, which we've been dreaming about for decades, listening to stories about for years, and now we're building it thanks to European Union money. This was a period in which the work of Croatian motorways was recognised through recognitions such as the "Rexpo 2018. Best New Investment Award" for the Ciovo bridge project or the Vecernji list reader award for the construction of Peljesac bridge as an economic event in 2019. These are recognitions for all of our employees for their work,'' said Josip Skoric, President of the Management Board of Croatian motorways.

What is important to emphasise is the fact that in the last four years, Croatian motorways, in cooperation with the Croatian Government, carried out the financial and operational restructuring of society and digital transformation.

"Within the project entitled The Modernisation and Restructuring of the Road Sector (MARS), a review of the company was performed and measures and activities were defined to raise efficiency. We've set clear and measurable goals and indicators through which our managers monitor every investment and every employee, and I believe that we'll further improve our business in the coming years. Furthermore, a thorough digital transformation of the company has been initiated and largely implemented over recent years. Four key areas of transformation have been defined: project management, document management, road asset management and business information systems,'' said Skoric.

''We've made great progress in the application of the so-called BIM (Building Information Modeling) technology and methodology that we implement in all phases of the construction process - planning, design, construction and maintenance. By the end of the year, we expect the procurement and selection of a contractor for the Road Property Management System (RAMS), software that will have two key functions: a reliable and accurate data inventory easy to use for roads, buildings and other road infrastructure elements and an assessment tool which will give priority and the estimation of the costs of future periodic maintenance and remediation needs, using the latest developments in international practice. I'd also like to mention that we've published the WEB GIS portal of all public roads in the Republic of Croatia on our website,'' said Skoric, adding that the completed projects are a reminder of a successful period, perhaps a motive for launching new projects, and an idea to make greater use of the development potential of transport in the Republic of Croatia.

"We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but thanks to continuous work, state roads are becoming safer and more fluid, and by building key facilities, we're significantly raising the quality of life for people. Everything done in the previous period in terms of social development and business modernisation shows I'm right when I say that we have the necessary courage and knowledge to continue with the successful results of Croatian motorways, making maximum use of EU funds, even during the pandemic,'' concluded Skoric.

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Friday, 11 September 2020

Croatian Motorways Satisfied With 2020 Tourist Season Despite Woes

As Novac/Marijan Brala writes on the 10th of September, 2020, Croatian Motorways (HAC) saw 30 million vehicles in the first eight months of 2020, or 29 percent less than in the same period last year, and 1.5 billion kuna in toll fees or 31 percent less when compared to this time in 2019 were collected. As such, there is a sense of satisfaction with the shaky 2020 tourist season which managed to mitigate minuses caused by the pandemic.

"At the very beginning of the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic in Croatia, HAC prepared a Crisis Business Plan according to the guidelines of the Ministry of State Property, which included a 35 percent reduction in toll revenues. Now, after eight months, the situation is somewhat better than that plan," they commented from HAC.

They also revealed that the largest decrease in traffic and revenue in the first eight months of this year compared to last year was recorded on the A7 Rupa-Rijeka motorway, down by 46 percent, and then by 33.6 percent on the A1 Bosiljevo-Split-Ploce motorway and from 33 percent on the highway A3 (Bregana-Zagreb-Lipovac).

The 2020 tourist season mitigated the minuses

Noting that due to the epidemic they adopted a number of measures that directly helped the economy, including the decision to not go with summer/seasonal increase in toll prices of 10 percent, HAC stated that this measure saved citizens and the economy about 33 million kuna.

"At the beginning of the 2020 tourist season in June, traffic on motorways was slightly behind last year's, by 35 percent, but in the summer season it did increase and the differences decreased. Given that last year was a record in all segments of tourism, it's difficult is to compare the numbers this year and the current situation, but in the end, we're satisfied with the 2020 tourist season, which proved that the decisive factor in choosing a holiday destination is its availability within a few hours, which is possible with modern and safe motorways in Croatia,'' they stated from HAC.

Investments are going according to plan

Despite the dire business situation caused by the ongoing epidemic, investments are going according to plan and they haven't stopped. The investments which are planned for this year are in the amount of almost 401 million kuna.

"Of these total planned investments, 196.1 million kuna is planned for construction, and almost 205 million kuna for extraordinary maintenance activities. So far, slightly more than 219.1 million kuna has been realised," they stated from HAC, adding that until the end of this year, there are still investments worth almost 182 million kuna going ahead as initially planned.

The projects in the plan are the corridor V.c - Beli Manastir-Osijek, the Novi Vinodolski bypass, asphalt rehabilitation on the A4 Zagreb-Gorixan highway and the Ranzirni kolodvor/station viaduct.

By the end of the year, the merger of ARZ with HAC will be completed

According to the plan, the process of merging ARZ (the company Autocesta Rijeka-Zagreb) with HAC is underway, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year or more specifically by December the 31st, according to the decision of the Croatian Government from May the 21st this year.

"All necessary activities are being carried out in this merger process, which is a continuation of reform and restructuring in order to achieve additional cost optimisation. Namely, further efficiency improvements are possible in regard to overhead costs, because HAC and ARZ have numerous activities that overlap significantly. These are also related to the operating costs in joint administrative functions, which would be reduced to 15 million kuna per year in the next two years,'' they emphasised from HAC.

In addition, they concluded, the merger creates the proper preconditions for more rational financial management and greater potential for investment in maintenance and construction, and the unification of state-owned motorway management should facilitate the introduction of a new toll collection system and bring savings in public procurement procedures.

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Monday, 17 August 2020

Losses for Croatian Motorways Amid Pandemic: "We'll Survive"

As much as 20 percent of Croatia's GDP is made up by tourism as one of the country's strongest economic branches. Given the fact that Croatia is a destination to which many European tourists drive (with the exception of the UK and Ireland, the nationals of which tend to use air transport), Croatian motorways are usually packed at this time of year with license plates from across the continent visible across the country. Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, those same Croatian motorways have experienced expected losses.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes on the 16th of August, 2020, Ivan Ribicic, the director of the toll collection sector at HAC, told Dnevnik N1 what the situation currently looks like on Croatian motorways, which is a state-owned company.

"HAC is operating with a deficit of 30 percent, which is 540 million kuna," stated Ivan Ribicic, but the opening of the tourist season has indeed improved revenue when compared to the way things stood earlier on in the year, he stressed. Given the fact that the ''lockdown month'' for Croatia took place back in April and that Croatia has experienced more toursim than the previously dire predictions suggested, this is logical.

"HAC is in its restructuring phase, we were well on our way to getting better. The crisis caught up with us, but thanks to banks and to our creditors, we managed to get our hands on some stand-by arrangements, so we do have room to breathe and we'll invest the money for the future. If revenues remain at this level, then we will survive,'' the Croatian motorways director explained.

Some workers at HAC have been retiring, taking severance pay along with the move, and that's how they're dealing with unfortunate redundancies, he says.

"It's good that people are using ENC devices more and more, and the campaign is contributing to that. We organised and monitored the hourly loads at Croatia's toll stations, ans so we were able to organise ourselves accordingly,'' said Ribicic.

For more on Croatian motorways and travel in the coronavirus age, follow our dedicated section.

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Sunday, 12 July 2020

Stay Safe While Traveling with Croatian Motorways COVID-19 Campaign

July 12, 2020 - Given the increase in the number of infected in Croatia and other European countries, but also the intensification of tourist traffic, Croatian Motorways has launched an informative campaign for safe travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

HRTurizam reports that posters calling for compliance with epidemiological measures are being placed on the entire network of HAC and ARZ shares, and they will be located at rest stops, sales offices and petrol stations of INA, CRODUX, TIFON and PETROL, which are campaign partners. The bilingual posters contain a QR code link to the koronavirus.hr website.

HAC_plakat_putujte odgovorno web.jpg

Also, a leaflet in 8 languages was prepared and distributed to Croatian National Tourist Board offices, HAK, car clubs and camping organizations in the countries from which the majority of motorized tourist traffic comes. The leaflets contain information on travel planning, contactless payment models as well as recommendations for adhering to epidemiological measures.

HAC_plakat_putujte odgovorno žuri web.jpg

With the opening of borders, the arrival of foreign tourists and the holiday season for domestic users, traffic on motorways is also increasing.

52 percent of last year's tourist traffic was realized in July by July 9, and there are currently 500,000 tourists in Croatia.

Although HAC and ARZ currently account for approximately 70% of last year's traffic, peak loads on the roads also create traffic jams on motorway facilities, so a balanced information campaign seeks to maintain coronavirus awareness and encourage responsible behavior.

primjer plakata na benzinskoj web.jpg

"During the summer season, HAC conducts campaigns related to travel and safety on highways. After the excellent response of users to the campaign "Emergency Corridor Saves Lives", we planned a campaign for senior drivers for this season, but the conditions of the new normal imposed other priorities," said the President of the Board of HAC, Ph.D. Boris Huzjan.

primjer plakata na benzinskoj II web.jpg

The messages of the information campaign were harmonized by the experts and the Civil Protection Headquarters of the Republic of Croatia, and the templates of the information posters were given to other motorway concessionaires in the Republic of Croatia, Croatian Motorways concludes.

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Sunday, 25 August 2019

HAC (Croatian Motorways) Could Annul Tender Worth 380 Million Kuna

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes on the 24th of August, 2019, HAC (Croatian motorways) are likely to cancel a tender worth a massive 380 million kuna for the construction of the Beli Manastir - Drava bridge section on the A5 Beli Manastir - Osijek - Svilaj motorway. The reason for this decision was the withdrawal of Integral inženjering (engineering) from Laktaši (Bosnia and Herzegovina).

The bidding for the construction of this subdivision on the Croatian part of 5c corridor received three bids. Of these, only Integral from Bosnia and Herzegovina offered a price which was within the estimated value of the works.

The Bosnia and Herzegovina-based company has offered to build the 17.5-kilometer highway for 359.1 million kuna. The value of the offer of the Chinese company Sinohydro Corporation amounts to 416.1 million kuna, while the community of bidders Osijek-Koteks, Gravija, Cestorad and PZC Brod offered a price of 446.1 million kuna, Vecernji list reports.

The bids opened back on the 19th of March, 2019, and on the 2nd of August, the HAC board decided to select Integral's offer, which still required the approval of the supervisory board. But then a major turnaround took place.

As has since been learned, HAC sent a letter to all bidders inviting them to extend the deadline for their bids, which expired on August the 17th. In the same letter, all those who offered their bids were also invited to extend their guarantees, or to offer new guarantees. The deadline for the submission of statements of extension of the validity period of the offer was until August the 20th, and for the submission of a new or extended guarantee, the date was set at August the 22nd, 2019.

The Chinese company and a consortium led by Osijek-Koteks sent the requested documents on time, but nothing came from Integral, creating major problems for HAC because the other two bids were above the estimated value of the works. Therefore, HAC could cancel the tender entirely and announce a new one with the same estimated value. In doing so, HAC is examining what legal steps they could take and whether or not they can sue Integral to protect their own interests, given that the aforementioned Laktaši company has abandoned its offer, putting them in a highly unenviable situation.

From HAC, the decision to select Integral in the tender for the Beli Manastir - Drava Bridge subdivision was made more than four months after the bids actually opened, and it apprently took so long because it was a complex, high value tender, so they had to make sure that the prices offered were technically correct. Therefore, they had previously asked the tenderer for an extension of the validity of the offer and the guarantee, and at that time they all responded to that invitation.

Why Integral did not respond to the second call for these extensions is currently not known to HAC. However, the construction company confirmed for Vecernji list that they definitely did not extend the validity of their bid in the HAC tender for the construction of a subdivision on the 5c corridor. Again, they provided no clear reason as to why.

"We can confirm that Integral engineering, having already extended the validity of its offer once, didn't do so again. In doing so, we were guided by an assessment of the situation and market developments," Integral, the largest construction company in Republika Srpska, told Vecernji list in Republika Srpska.

The company is already present on the Croatian market, is a subcontractor of the Dugo Selo - Križevci railway line, and has competed, among other things, for the construction of access roads to Pelješac bridge in Dalmatia.

It was excluded from that particular tender because of its unusually low price. HAC believes that this procedure, after the cancellation of the tender, will be carried out quickly because the Chinese and the consortium led by Osijek-Koteks will have no legal basis to appeal such a decision, since their bids are above the estimated value of the works anyway. Therefore, they believe that even if they do lodge an appeal, the State Commission for the Control of Public Procurement Procedures will quickly dismiss it, so that a new tender may be launched soon.

On the Croatian part of the 5c corridor, out of a total of 90 kilometres, the country is yet to construct those 17.5 kilometres from the Drava bridge to Beli Manastir, and another five kilometres from Beli Manastir to the Hungarian border, which are still under design. As for the Hungarian part of the 5c corridor, a highway from Budapest to Boly was built there, and another 20 kilometres from Boly to the Croatian border still need to be built.

The Hungarians should build these 20 kilometres by 2023, and by then Croatia should complete its last five kilometres to the Hungarian border. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a highway from Zenica to Tarčin was built on the 5c corridor, as was a junction with Highway 10 near Ploče.

The construction of the motorway around Zenica and the border section from Odžak to the Svilaj bridge on the Sava river are now underway.

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Monday, 15 July 2019

Last Weekend Welcomed 27,000 Fewer Cars on Croatian Motorways than 2018

Croatian motorways saw fewer cars over the last week compared to the same period last year, and HAC and ARZ recorded lower toll revenues. 

According to the data of the concessionaires Croatian Motorways (HAC) and Rijeka-Zagreb Motorway (ARZ), a total of 793,600 vehicles were recorded from the weekend of July 12 to 14, which is 2 percent or about 27,000 cars fewer than the same weekend last summer, reports Poslovni.hr and RTL on July 15, 2019.

The tolls also collected 3.1 percent less in revenues or 44.4 million kuna without VAT.

Over the past week, from July 8 to 14, the motorways of HAC and ARZ also saw slightly fewer cars than last year - 1.6 million or 0.1 percent less, while toll revenues from the total of almost 90 million kuna excluding VAT are down by 1.2 percent.

On Istrian motorways, according to data from the company Bina-Istra, last weekend also saw 1.2 percent less traffic with 150,400 vehicles, which is about two thousand less than the previous year.

Furthermore, only on Saturday, July 13, Bina-Istra recorded nearly 6 percent fewer vehicles than the comparable day of last year.

Fewer vehicles have also been reported by the Zagreb-Macelj Motorway (AZM), which recorded fewer cars, or a total of 110,800 each day, which is down 4 percent or about 5,000 cars fewer than the same weekend in 2018.

Judging by the first half of July, this tourist season could halt the continuation of record-breaking seasons. In the first 12 days of July, 100,000 fewer tourists visited Croatia than in the same period last year, RTL reported.

While the only exception is Split, which has recorded an increased number of arrivals, the rest of the coast is looking for reasons why the season is weaker.

According to data from eVisitor on the first 12 days of July, there were almost 100,000 fewer tourists who realized half a million overnights fewer than in the same period last year. 

In the first weekend of July, more than 730,000 vehicles went through Croatian motorways which paid 39,650,000 kuna in tolls. Compared to 2018, this was an increase in the number of vehicles by 1.3 percent, however, toll revenues fell by 1.5 percent.

“On Sunday until 18:00, the Lučko toll station welcomed 31,000 vehicles, and employees counted 11,000 at the exit. It is far from those daily average traffic numbers in the past years when Lučko saw more than 60,000 vehicles per day The current situation also confirms this: At the exit of the Lučko toll station there are no crowds, no traffic,” said RTL reporter Ilija Radić on Sunday.

Radić explained that a similar situation could be found at the entrance to the highway. HAK claimed that the traffic was intensified in the direction of the sea, and the direction of the mainland for all of Sunday. However, longer stops, bigger crowds, and more traffic couldn’t be found. 

“If it is to be judged accordingly and to all of the above, we can conclude that the season is not what it is has been the previous two or three years. There is about a month, or a month and a half of the peak season that may be able to fix the situation and maybe we can reach the figures from the past,” Radić concluded on Sunday. 

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