According to some reports, it’s official: the Bucharest metro will be extended to Otopeni Airport and work begins this year. No, really, this time it’s apparently happening. For certain. No ifs, no buts. It will be ready by 2020, in time for that year’s European Football Championships (Bucharest is hosting four matches). The Japanese government is lending Metrorex (the state-owned mess of a company which operates the metro) the money: €300 million.
All too good to be true?
While it is certainly true that Metrorex is sitting on a €300 million line of cheap Japanese credit, the money has been available for almost five years and has yet to be touched. What’s more, each year it goes unused costs around €300,000 in fees. Factor in the depreciation of the Yen and the actual amount still available is around €230 million, which only covers a third of the total cost of building the metro extension to the airport.
Nevertheless, after discovering all of this the new Romanian Minister of Transport, Dan Costescu, has decided to use the money (far better, he says, than paying not to use it), and confirmed at the weekend that construction of the extension would begin this year. However, he did not say that it would be ready by 2020; far from it. ‘The money has been unused for five years, nothing has been done and yet everyone still talks of a metro to the airport by 2020,’ Costescu said. ‘We need to think about the medium and the long term. The European Championships are not necessarily our target. This needs to be a sustainable, long-term project. The M6 is about more than just the airport. The line will serve offices, commercial centres, the town of Otopeni and other suburbs. We will begin its construction, but it will be built piecemeal, bit-by-bit.’
Encouragingly however, Costescu added that the government is also studying the possibility of making use of the existing railway line which runs from Gara de Nord to within three kilometres of the airport. We have written about this before, back in 2008. The people at TER have also picked up on the idea. You can see their map of the route (better than ours) here. The only tunnelling required would be the last two and half kilometres, under the DN1 and the airport terminal. Otherwise, upgrading the existing CFR line is all that is needed.
‘Yes, we are looking at upgrading the existing line,’ Costescu said. ‘The advantage of this project is that we would not need to invest huge amounts of money, the vast majority of the line already existing. It would be great to have a service linking the airport to the city in 15-20 minutes, and this project could well be completed by 2020.’
It would appear that in Costescu we finally have a Minister of Transport who doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel. What a shame his mandate – like that of the government – runs out in November.