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Ukraine ‘moves closer to Europe’ with mountain tunnel breakthrough

A Europe-funded tunnel under the Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine that will quadruple rail traffic to and from the European Union saw a breakthrough last week with the completion of the tunnel’s tube.

"Ukraine is moving an important step closer to Europe with the completion of the tunnel tube," said a statement from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), one of the project’s funders, in announcing the milestone at the so-called Beskyd Tunnel.

The $177m (€163m) twin-track tunnel, stretching 1.8km under mountains from Lviv in western Ukraine to Chop, near the borders of Hungary and the Slovak Republic, replaces a 130-year-old single-track tunnel built under the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Modern transport links will boost cross-border trade and cooperation, and bring people and businesses closer together– Sevki Acuner, EBRD Director for Ukraine

It will remove a major bottleneck in the transport corridor that links Ukraine with the EU by increasing capacity from the current 12 trains a day to 46 on completion, which is scheduled for the end of 2017.

Nearly half of all goods travelling between Ukraine and the rest of Europe pass through the tunnel, originally completed in 1886.

Of the $177m cost, EBRD is lending $40m, the European Investment Bank (EIB) is lending $60m (€55m), with Ukraine’s national railway company, UZ, contributing as well.

The EIB announced its lending decision in May 2014, as tensions were escalating quickly over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and declarations of independence by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

"This is a very important project for Ukraine and Europe," said Sevki Acuner, EBRD Director for Ukraine, this week.

"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."

The European lenders are also hailing the project as a breakthrough in above-board project delivery in Ukraine, a country normally associated with rampant corruption.

The EBRD said the Beskyd tunnel is the first rail project in Ukraine to abide by the contractual framework standards of the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC), and by the EBRD’s own procurement policies.

The EBRD is the largest international financial investor in Ukraine. As of 1 January 2016, the Bank had a total cumulative commitment of approximately €12 billion in 355 projects throughout the country.

Photograph: Workers approach daylight as the 1.8-km tube of the Beskyd tunnel is completed (EBRD)

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