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6 Feb 2022

The People’s Map of Global China

Budapest–Belgrade Railway (Hungarian Section)

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Often billed by the Hungarian Government as a flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Europe, the Budapest–Belgrade Railway upgrade is a refurbishment of an existing (though old and outdated) railway line between the capital cities of Hungary and Serbia that aims to reduce the journey time from eight to four hours. The construction of the Hungarian section is to be financed by a 20-year, 1.855-billion-USD loan from the Export–Import Bank of China. It is the single most expensive rail investment in Hungary’s history.

Project Impacts

  • Transparency: The feasibility study and the contract have been classified for 10 years by the Hungarian Government and, as a result, the public has no information regarding the potential benefits and disadvantages of the project (impacts on employment, local community, the environment, and so on).
  • Lack of Benefit for Local Communities: The railway will be constructed mostly by Chinese companies. Also, even though officially the project aims to make Hungary a transportation hub for Chinese products, major cities in southern Hungary have been bypassed by the railway line.
  • Financial Sustainability: The project is the single most expensive rail investment in Hungary’s history, and is financed largely through a loan provided by the Export–Import Bank of China. According to earlier calculations by logistics experts consulted by the newspaper Figyelő, the maximum number of trains per year will be 1,600 (4.4 trains per day), which means an increase of 1.6 million tonnes of freight traffic on the line. On this basis, the return on investment is estimated at 2,400 years. The details of expected traffic levels have never been released, nor have any hard figures been provided to make the case for rebuilds at such high expenditure.
  • Corruption: The fact the Hungarian partner in the joint venture contracted to build the railway is controlled by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s childhood friend has led to accusations of cronyism.