Why Bulgaria’s railways have failed to impress

Between 1791 and 1883, in the period from the decline of Ottoman rule and the birth of the Bulgarian republic, work was a massive economic opportunity. By the time the country gained independence, the combined capacities of the Eastern European country’s railroads had expanded to 82,500km. In 1524, the city of Varna acquired what became Bulgaria’s first rail junction, the railway that connects the Black Sea and the Adriatic River. The great Portuguese novelist Cervantes described the “Railroad of Bulgaria” as “the most picturesque.”

Construction of the Neda Street Railway link began in 1885, when the 19th-century hydro-electric engineer Henry Lynessi arrived in the country. Lynessi built a contract with the New York-based Mineral Aggregates Corporation to construct a 110-kilometre-long railsroad along the northwestern coastal coast of Bulgaria in exchange for minerals. Lynessi had a reputation as an innovative and brilliant engineer. A member of the British Rhodesian Benevolent Society, he was employed for many years as a railway planner and engineer in the British section of the Credit Company of Canada. In October 1892, Lynessi told his employers at Mineral Aggregates that they would reap handsome profits as soon as he finished his project. But Mozogrievsk city, the first target of the ambitious railroad, was four hours away. Ultimately, because of the high cost and the lack of funds, the Bulgarian government suspended operations. The Neda Street Railway link was never completed.

Today, the railroads are mere shadows of their former selves. They were originally built to carry ships between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean and to transport goods throughout the Ottoman Empire, China, and India. The Neda Street Railway link opened on 1 September 1885. It was the first ship to cross from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean after the start of the Ottoman Empire.

Why did Lynessi build this project? In his autobiography, Crookstonov wrote: “There was always an unlimited expectation that the euro zone was coming, and I wanted to prove that it could be built with confidence. I intend to stimulate the reconstruction of the railways in the Baltic states, and I had better start first with Bulgaria, as the existing infrastructure is more developed.”

The investment was no doubt beneficial. In 1988, the Intercity Transportation Corporation began to construct new railroads and implement an ambitious rehabilitation program in Bulgaria, the Baltic states, and the Czech Republic. The new system was technologically impressive: a passenger train was able to travel from Sofia to Budapest in a mere four hours, while a freight train could make the journey from Plovdiv to Riga in 8 hours.

The business partners hoped that the new infrastructure would prove an attraction for potential investors.

And there was some success. In 1989, the railway paid a capital income of 102 million sč, or approximately $10.5 million, which was sufficient to finance the company.

*Professor Oskar Friedmann is the chair of architecture at the University of Bologna

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