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Sofia faces difficulties in purchasing metro trains due to dependence on Russian technologies

30 January 2023
Reading time ~ 4 min
Russian rolling stock in Sofia’s metro, Bulgaria
Russian rolling stock in Sofia’s metro, Bulgaria. Source: Nadezhda Chipeva/Dnevnik
Ivolgina Anna, Editorial Contributor to International Projects, ROLLINGSTOCK Agency
Reading time ~ 4 min
Stolchnev Alexey, Russian Projects Editor, ROLLINGSTOCK Agency

Bulgaria: Late in 2022 the capital’s metro announced a purchase of 16 metro trains worth 250 mln BGN (€128 mln). The rolling stock is supposed to be delivered for several lines, and half of the trains should have automation compatible with previously installed Russian systems. However, there are EU sanctions imposed on purchases from Russia.

For instance, according to the Dnevnik media, 8 trains in one batch are needed for Line M1 (Red) and Line M2 (Blue), where since their launch in 1998 and 2012 respectively, Russian trains of 81-740.2/741.2 “Rusich” and 81-717.4/714.4 series manufactured by Metrowagonmash (part of TMH) are used. The second batch of another eight trains is intended for the unmanned Line M3 (Green), put into operation in 2020 and using Inspiro trains co-produced by Siemens and Newag, both equipped with an upper conductor rail.

As Sofia metro’s executive director Stoyan Bratoev says, Russian companies cannot participate in this order due to the EU sanctions. Additionally, there is a European regulation that requires 50% of the localisation in the EU, according to him. The spokesperson for the operator also notes that the financing of the purchase has not yet been secured. “We still don’t know where the money will come from. The idea is that if funds are released, there will be a ready procedure”, Bratoev says as cited by Dnevnik.

It is separately noted that the order for new trains on the lines, where the Russian rolling stock is operated, has included a requirement that they comply with the current transport automation systems, as well as be able to be coupled “with any type of participating trains in this section”. The new vehicles must be able to operate without requiring additional stationary equipment. According to Bratoev, a special onboard control unit will suffice for that. Otherwise, the new trains themselves are no different from previous orders, he says. At the same time, the metro’s spokesperson admits that the “Rusich” models in operation have non-Russian parts from Europe and Japan – namely, Hitachi drives and Japanese electronics. The deadline for offers is 23 March, according to Dnevnik.

In the recent years TMH has been performing the contract for Sofia concerning refurbishment and upgrade of 81-717.4/714.4 metro cars; options contract includes 12 trains in total. The analyses of the Russian manufacturer’s official reports conducted by ROLLINGSTOCK showed that 8 trains were modernised by the beginning of 2022. The data by TransPhoto also demonstrated that the 8 upgraded trains were delivered to the customer. TMH’s September 2022 publication on its metro trains production programme never mentioned any works for Sofia.

In September TMH CEO Kirill Lipa noted that none of the foreign customers or partners withdrew from their contracts, yet economic conditions and political pressure force to change cooperation conditions. In particular, delivery of metro trains to Baku is still ongoing: the city’s metro has announced lately that they put another vehicle in operation. In Hungary TMH assets have been purchased by Magyar Vagon, with TMH’s legal entities renamed Ganz-MaVag and the Hungarian side taking over the supply of passenger coaches under the contract for Egypt.

Stadler and Skoda Group have experience in delivering trains for existing Soviet/Russian metro automation systems. For instance, the former delivered М110/111 metro trains to Minsk and the latter supplied 81-556/557/558 “NeVa” trains to Saint-Petersburg. Meanwhile, Skoda Group is implementing a delivery contract of metro trains to Warsaw today.