Tbilisi Railway Bypass project, Georgia
In March 2010, the EBRD and EIB approved a €200 million loan for the Tbilisi Railway Bypass project. The project sponsor is Georgia Railway LTD, 100% owned state enterprise.
The main goal of the Tbilisi Railway Bypass Project is to construct a new section of railway bypassing central Tbilisi in order to avoid the transit of hazardous freight (such as oil and oil products) through the middle of the city. The project splits the Georgian passenger railway network into two systems: Western and eastern Georgia. It further involves the removal of the Central Railway station. An additional justification for the project is that the railway currently acts as a major barrier to city development on the northern bank as well as depressing land values in its vicinity.
While the main goal of the project is welcomed- improving safety within the city of Tbilisi through relocation of rail freight, there are several deep concerns voiced by civil society as project implementation may cause a serious threat to Tbilisi’s population.
Negative impacts of the Tbilisi railway bypass project
Railway services and safety
As a result of the project, the passenger railway services will be divided into two parts. After abolishing the direct link for travel from eastern Georgia to western and vice-versa, people will need to use different means of transport to continue usage of railway services. That may result not only in increase of discomfort and expenses, but also in the possible reduction of the number of people using the railway, thus increasing the road traffic and decreasing the railway revenues, especially in summer months.
While the project goal is to ensure increased safety of Tbilisi population, the very same project envisages construction of the new railway through the densely populated Avchala district, which fully undermines the idea of the project. During the public hearings the local population expressed their concerns regarding the fact that the project does not include any safeguard measures in case of accidents involving trains running on high embankments (18-20 metres in height). In addition, the EIA study does not assess the leakage of hazardous goods such as oil carried by the trains and brake fluid, which will also negatively impact living conditions in the area.
Potential for drinking water pollution
The projected railway route runs near the Tbilisi reservoir, one of the major drinking water supplies for Tbilisi. Although there is a minimum of 900 metres distance, due to the underground streams running towards the reservoir, in case of spillage of even half a tank it could spoil approximately 50% of the volume of the Tbilisi reservoir, according to the project EIA, leaving 25% of Tbilisi population without drinking water and around 20,000 hectares of agricultural arable land in the Gardabani region without irrigation.
According to an ecological analysis by the Georgian Water and Power company, the above-mentioned negative impacts mean that the preferred route does not fulfill requirements for environmental safety and therefore additional studies need to be carried out to find a safe alternative.
One of the issues that civil society representatives stress concerns the absence of a proper waste management plan, including the rehabilitation of the existing railway route.
According to the project sponsor, freed-up territories will be cleaned up before further use. It claims that a €8.5 million grant received from EU Neighbourhood Investment Facility (NIF) will be enough to investigate historic pollution from railway operations (maintenance depots etc.) and to clean-up and remediate the sites. Taking into account that freed-up territories comprise more than 80ha, it is dubious that €8.5 million will be enough to clean up the rail yard.
In practice, the NIF contribution was provided after the project was approved by EBRD and EIB. In accordance with the available documentation, the NIF grant may respond to all the environmental concerns raised during the public consultation period.
According to TRACECA web site, NIF contributed an €8.5 million grant to the project in order to finance:
- The environmental mitigation measures along the bypass;
- Technical assistance in view of an environmental 'clean up';
- Preparation of a master plan for the freed-up land.
Until now it is not clear how nor when the clean-up operations would be carried out and who will finance it. It is still not clear what the rational is from the side of the Banks and NIF to finance a project that ultimately has no economic benefits (in accordance with its own documentation), while it does not ensure the ultimate goal of the idea – to increase the safety of Tbilisi citizens from railway operations.
It should be stressed that according to the EC a rehabilitation project of the railway between Tbilisi and Yerevan was financed in 2008-2009 within the framework of TRACECA Program. For that purpose € 580.000 was allocated.
As a result of the project the following activities were implemented:
- Study for the signaling system on the Georgian main line.
- Study for the rehabilitation of the Tbilisi-Yerevan railway line, between Tbilisi and the Armenian border.
- Tbilisi-Yerevan railway line between the Georgian border and Yerevan section between Hrazdan and Dilijan.
- Between €130 and 220 million for the line would be necessary to increase its capacity substantially.
- The section from Tbilisi to Stare Border of Georgia is in quite good condition, an automatic spacing system and new signal boxes should be installed.
- The section in Armenia should undergo a complete track renewal.
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