The context

Rail was Albania’s main mode of transport for most of the 20th century.

It was an affordable, reliable and accessible option for passengers, and a cost-effective way of transporting freight. Packed trains wound their way from the countryside to the cities, and from pristine coastal towns to charming mountain villages.

Unfortunately, the railways began to decline in the 1980s, as limited service and frequent disruptions prompted a switch to the roads.

Now, Albania’s Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy has made the shift back to rail a national priority. The Albanian railway company HSH has been asked to help turn things around by promoting an ambitious programme to rebuild and modernise the railways.

The plan would make transport in Albania greener, more competitive and more sustainable, and improve connections with neighbouring countries and the European railway network.

The plan focuses on rebuilding and modernising the railway sections between Durrës and Tirana (including a new link to Tirana’s airport), Vorë and Han i Hotit (close to the border with Montenegro), Durrës and Rrogozhinë, and Rrogozhinë and Pogradec. It will also create a new cross-border link with North Macedonia.

The challenge

HSH is determined to live up to the challenge, but after decades without such projects, it lacks the relevant experience and staff.  

To solve this bottleneck, national institutions, including HSH and the Albanian government, reached an agreement with the European Commission, the EIB and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on an action plan to improve the skills of those tasked with rebuilding the railway.

@denis jakubik/EIB

The plan

The Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy and HSH approached JASPERS to draw up an action plan to help HSH employees develop the right skills for rail expansion, so that it could proceed with its ambitious investment project.

JASPERS experts proposed a new working environment to empower employees and attract top talent.

The priority was to upgrade the skills and expertise of HSH employees, including the project management and implementation unit. Our experts devised a bespoke, comprehensive, people-centred training programme based on the various pillars of expertise and the needs of HSH’s workforce. It covers public procurement, implementation tasks and operational aspects, and also provides for comprehensive and ad hoc training according to need.

The second step was to improve employee working conditions by providing additional workspaces and upgrading IT equipment, and by offering better employment contracts.

The action plan also proposes a set of measures to improve employee cooperation across HSH departments and with external partners.

The final point of the action plan recommended preparing a practical manual of procedures for reference by HSH staff. The manual will include best international practices for project implementation and will ensure that knowledge is retained even when employees leave. The first draft will be based on similar experiences we had in other countries, and will be tailored to the needs of HSH and its project management and implementation unit. In the future, the manual will be updated based on staff experiences and lessons learnt.

The results

In the spirit of besa (meaning “keeping the promise” and “word of honour” in Albanian), all stakeholders cooperated efficiently to develop the action plan. This included excellent cooperation between JASPERS and the various EIB departments, the national authorities, the EBRD and the European Commission. 

The Albanian authorities have committed to seeing the plan through. Its adoption by the European Commission unlocked an additional €136 million investment grant from the Western Balkans Investment Framework for the railway line between Vorë and Hani i Hotit and allowed loans from the EIB and the EBRD to be obtained for the same line.

If all goes according to plan, HSH will rebuild and modernise more than 75% of its 425 km of railways in the next decade. This will have a positive impact on the country, bringing the Albanian railways closer to EU standards and the country closer to EU integration.

Beyond that, current and future HSH employees will benefit from enhanced skills, enabling the company to develop, operate and maintain a modern rail system for future generations.