Ukraine has moved a step closer to faster transport links with the European Union following the breakthrough of a rail tunnel under the Carpathian Mountains in the south-west of the country.
The double-track Beskyd tunnel is set to replace the existing single-track structure, which was commissioned exactly 130 years ago, when the region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The new tunnel will remove a major bottleneck in European transport corridor V, which links Ukraine with the European Union, by almost quadrupling capacity from the current 12 trains per day to 46.
The tunnel is expected to be fully operational by early 2018 and will significantly reduce journey times between Lviv in Western Ukraine and Chop near the borders of Hungary and Slovakia.
On completion, the 1.8km long structure will be seismically stable, 10.5m wide and 8.5m high. The construction will require 130,000t of concrete and 8,000t of steel.
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) director for Ukraine Sevki Acuner said: “This is a very important project for Ukraine and Europe.
“Modern transport links will boost cross-border trade and cooperation, and bring people and businesses closer together. Better access will also allow the region to realise its potential as a destination for tourism and investment.”
Corridor V is one of the ten Pan-European transport corridors defined in Crete in 1994; it runs from Venice and Trieste in Italy to Lviv via Ljubljana in Slovenia and Budapest in Hungary.
The Beskyd tunnel is the first railway infrastructure project in Ukraine to which the contractual framework standards of the International Federation of Consulting Engineers were applied. The EBRD said that this had become an important industry benchmark for transparency and efficiency.
The tunnel is being built by Ukrainian construction firm Interbudmontazh and financed by a US$40M (£28M) loan provided by the EBRD as well as a parallel loan worth £42M from the European Investment Bank.