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24 May 2023

Budapest–Belgrade Railway marred by allegations of lack of transparency and corruption

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Initiative (BRI) in Europe, the Budapest–Belgrade Railway upgrade is a refurbishment of an existing (though old and outdated) railway line between the capital cities of Hungary and Serbia that aims to reduce the journey time from eight to four hours.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.

Yet, 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). Also 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.