(All Images Copyright Johann Brandstätter/JB Photography)
After five years of construction the Vidin-Calafat Bridge, also known as Danube Bridge 2, is reaching its final stages. That does not mean that motorists and train tavellers have to start booking their tickets yet – after several delays and two extended deadlines, the bridge is not going to be opened for another year.
The second deadline extension runs out in November, but as Senior Bridge Engineer Paul Tramontini explained to me in an interview last week, all that will be finished at that time is the adjacent infrastructure. Before road vehicles can cross the bridge it will be at least April 2013 and for trains it looks like the green light is coming on even later.
Several minor setbacks are the reason for the delay. Only recently a cable parted while a crane lifted one of the pre-fabricated bridge elements into place, the element dropped and now needs repair. Ice and severe frost was the reason for a month-long interruption last winter, and so on.
But for Mr. Tramontini this is something not unexpected with a project of this size. Over such a long period things can go unexpectedly wrong, he says.
It certainly does not look like the delay is the fault of the construction crew: the site gives the impression of a well-organized bee hive. About 1,600 employees – mostly Bulgarians, but also Romanians, Italians, Spaniards and Portuguese – are busy all over the place.
Other things are more worrying than the delays in schedule: less than a year before its opening the bridge still does not have an operator because the Bulgarian and Romanian sides cannot agree on a structure for the company.
Even worse, the bridge and its surrounding infrastructure are the latest in technology and designed for the heavy traffic influx that is to be expected after the opening. But neither the roads nor the railway tracks that connect Romania and Bulgaria with the bridge are remotely able to deal with the increased traffic. As Mr. Tramontini puts it, “there will be a high-speed railway between Vidin and Calafat [i.e. across the bridge] and the rest of the railway systems are only good for 30 km/h at places.”
While in Romania at least the railway connection to the bridge is improving, the Bulgarian authorities are deeply asleep. Nothing gets done to improve the abominable conditions on road and rail between the border town of Vidin and the capital Sofia. Travel time on the main road from the bridge to Sofia (about 240 km) is 2:40 hours at best, road surface in some villages that have to be passed is cobblestone, the stretch across the Balkan mountains is narrow with countless 180-degree turns and potholes deep enough to pose a serious risk for compact cars.
But despite all that, the new bridge will be an incredible improvement from the current conditions. Railway travellers so far had to get off the train on one side of the river, cross the river on the ferry and board another train on the other side, an operation that can easily take several hours. Drivers of cars and trucks have to face outrageous fares for the ferry crossing – between 30 and 100 Euro one-way – with no certainty about the sailing times, because standard practice is to wait until the boat can be filled.
The fee for crossing the new bridge is expected to be six Euro for cars…
The photo shooting and the interviews on the construction site took place on 17 May 2012; another source of information is the Danube Bridge 2 website.
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