BDZ Might Collapse as Court Rules Bulgarian Trains Unsafe

Business | October 8, 2010, Friday // 18:15|  views

80% of the Bulgarian trains have expired safety certificates, and so does the BDZ company itself. Photo by Sofia Photo Angency

Some 80% of the passenger trains in Bulgaria are operating "illegally," according to a ruling of the Sofia Administrative Court.

The court has decided that any trains of the Bulgarian state-owned railway company BDZ with expired safety certificates.

Presently, about 80% of the Bulgarian trains have expired safety certificates. The court ruling upheld an order from May 2010 of former head of Executive Agency "Railway Administration," Simeon Ananiev, which banned the operation of the unsafe trains.

BDZ subsequently appealed the order which led to the ruling of the Sofia court. Now the state railways company has taken the case to the Supreme Administrative Court.

BDZ is also appealing two other orders issued by Ananiev, which, if implemented will practically terminate all train passenger services in Bulgaria.

In May 2010, Ananiev order the director of National Company "Railway Infrastructure" to terminate the contract with BDZ and to stop it from using the railroads across the country because the company's safety certificate had expired.

The Sofia Administrative Court is yet to rule on BDZ's appeal on these two administrative orders, the first ruling is due in late October.

The news that BDZ's safety certificates had expired first emerged in April 2010; the state company is obliged to have such certificates under the Railway Transport Act. They are issued by the National Research Institute on Transport in Sofia.

Back then the management of the Bulgarian state railways said that obeying the law would mean terminating the work of passenger train services in Bulgaria, and that they will start a procedure for the renewal of the certificates. The BDZ managers said they had been negotiating with the Transport Research Institute which requested BGN 6 M to examine all of the company's railway engines and cars, and BDZ did not have that kind of money.

The surfacing of the issues in the Bulgarian state railways has coincided with the sacking of the head of Executive Agency "Railway Administration," Simeon Ananiev. Ananiev was dismissed last week, on the day after a train collision near Bulgaria's Dragoman.

Ananiev, however, was not sacked because of the crash, according to Mediapool, as Transport Minister Alexander Tsvetkov signed the order for releasing him a week before the incident; yet, the order was presented to Ananiev only on the day after the crash.

Another senior railway official, Stefcho Sabchev, head of the BDZ Passenger Service, was sacked by the company board recently, allegedly for protesting the company policies.

According to Bulgaria's Transport Minister Alexander Tsvetkov, the BDZ trains are safe and are inspected daily. He said the technical condition of the cars and engines is established through inspections, not through certificates.

Tsvetkov is quoted as saying that BDZ is disputing the provisions of Bulgarian legislation that require that the company should have renewed safety certificates every 5 years. He argued that this is not required by EU law.

The Minister explained there was no way 80% of the trains in Bulgaria could be stopped as a result of the court ruling. He said he fired Ananiev over the latter's overall performance.

The BDZ trains are notorious not just for their dubious safety but also for being very outdated and vastly uncomfortable. The state-owned company has suffered from large-scale mismanagement since 1989.

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Tags: BDZ, trains, train accident, Alexander Tsvetkov, Transport Minister, Simeon Ananiev, railways, Bulgarian State Railways, Sofia Administrative Court, Supreme Administrative Court


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