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 was a cost-effective way of transporting freight. Packed trains wound their way from the country to the city, and from pristine coastal towns to charming mountain villages.
Unfortunately, the railways started seeing a decline in the 1980s, as limited and frequently disrupted services prompted a switch to the roads.
Now, the Albanian government’s Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy has made the shift back from road 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, and will also see a new cross-border link with North Macedonia.
HSH is determined to live up to the challenge, but decades of not carrying out this kind of project mean it has limited experience and staff to do so.
This bottleneck has been recognised by key stakeholders. As a result, national institutions, including HSH and the government, came to an agreement with the European Commission, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on the need for an action plan to upskill the teams involved in rebuilding the railways.
The ministry and HSH approached us to draw up the action plan. This will equip it with the necessary skills to implement such an ambitious investment programme.
The action plan will focus on helping HSH employees to develop the right skills for rail projects so that the company can go ahead with these investments.
Our experts proposed a new working environment that empowers employees and attracts the best talent.
The first priority under the action plan was to upgrade the skills and expertise of HSH employees, including the project management and implementation unit. Our experts devised a comprehensive, people-centred, tailor-made training programme based on the various pillars of expertise and on the needs of HSH’s workforce. The programme covers public procurement, implementation tasks and operational aspects, and also includes ad hoc and comprehensive training courses and workshops, as required.
The second issue to be addressed was employee working conditions. These will be improved by providing additional workspaces and upgrading IT equipment, as well as offering better employment contracts.
The action plan also proposes a set of measures to enhance employee cooperation across HSH departments and with external stakeholders.
The last point of the action plan recommends preparing a practical manual of relevant procedures as a reference for staff. The manual should include best international practices for project implementation and ensure that knowledge is not lost when employees leave. The first draft will be based on similar experiences we had in other countries but will be tailored to the needs of HSH and its project management and implementation unit. In future, the manual will need to be updated based on employees’ own experiences and lessons learnt.
Abiding by the concept of besa (meaning "to keep the promise" and "word of honor" in Albanian culture), all stakeholders cooperated efficiently to develop the action plan. This was also helped by excellent cooperation between JASPERS and the various EIB departments, the national authorities, the EBRD and the European Commission.
The national authorities have now committed to seeing through the plan. Its adoption by the European Commission also unblocked a €136 million investment grant from the Western Balkans Investment Framework for the railway section between Vorë and Hani i Hotit.
Our work also facilitated loans from the EIB and the EBRD to modernise that same section.
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 tremendous impact on the nation. It will bring the Albanian railways more in line with EU standards and bring the country one step 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.