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Trainspotting

By 1st Lt. Philippe Mouret
First published in
SFOR Informerr#127, November 28, 2001

German Capt. Joachim Metzner, SFOR rail operations staff officer, carried out one of his last field visits with managers of Republika Srpska Railways ("Zeljeznice Republika Srpska," ZRS) in the Doboj area.

Doboj - The town of Doboj is situated about 100 kilometres north of Sarajevo as the crow flies and about 40 kilometres south of the Croatian border, where the Bosna River valley opens. This region, which is on the Inter-Entity Boundary Line (IEBL), went through violent fights during the war. Numerous destroyed houses and mines testify to this. The Nordic Polish Battle Group (NP BG) and ZRS headquarters are settled in the city.
Last round
Nov. 22, Metzner carried out one of his last rounds in the area. American Maj. Scott Voelkel, engineers operations chief, accompanied the German officer. After a short briefing in a ZRS building, they went to check on the completion of two projects with Dimso Todorovic, chief electric engineer, and his colleagues, Zoran Milicevic, mine engineer, and Miodrag Stojnic, civil engineer.
The first project consisted of 20 kilometres of railway telecommunications cable rehabilitation on the Doboj-IEBL line section, mostly in the south. This was in order to restore contact with Maglaj (Federation, Fed) station, immediately on the other side of the IEBL.
The project cost 75,675 KM (38,692 ) and was funded by SFOR. On its side, ZRS had to invest 17,500 KM (8,947) in de-mining along the tracks. The line between Maglaj and Doboj closely follows the IEBL. The area is heavily mined, which make the work long and dangerous. To enter this zone by car or by foot is too risky. So, to do their inspection, the group had to take a track motorcar from Doboj Station. The group had to climb up on to the specialised motorcar, which was not built for passenger travel. Scaling his way to the top, Metzner was in for a surprise - a buffet was waiting for him. The ZRS managers took this opportunity to thank him for the work they did together. The officer specified later: "I always have been welcomed as a friend [] and Mr. Todorovic never called me 'Captain,' but 'Mr. Joachim.'"
At the last calling box level before the IEBL, the railway motorcar stopped. Everybody got out. Telecommunications technicians, Radic Zeljko and Damjanic Bosko tested the line. To be sure of the interconnection with the telephone network, Metzner called Gabriele Brunhilde, Todorovic's German secretary. It works. So the project is complete. Moreover, it's not impossible that in few years that the line could be used for civil communications.
The little inspection team got back into the automotive railcar to return to Doboj. From there, the team travelled by car to visit the second project: a concrete culvert to restore the drainage, near Sockovac Station on the Doboj-Petrovo Novo line. Here, SFOR's investment was 179,041 KM (91,542).
Back to ZRS headquarters in Doboj, Metzner signed documents certifying that the works have been completed.
Projects in the cap
Todorovic stated, "Most of ZRS projects would have never been done without SFOR's support. It has invested 15 million KM (7,67 millions ) over the past six years." Many other building sites are ongoing or planned: rehabilitation of level crossings, bridges, tunnels Another thing that is being replaced is the sleeper. Some are from the 1960's. Their life expectancy is 30 years. They should have been changed by the beginning of the 1990's, but war hampered it. An important and highly symbolic event is the opening, next December, of a combined bridge (car-train) over the Sava River. This will allow a connection with Croatian railways and, from there, to Budapest and the whole European network, to which Todorovic hopes to be integrated within the next 10 years.
He is optimistic: "ZRS accommodated an average of 1.5 millions passengers over the past four years and in 2001 the number of passengers is going to increase. The first objective was to start the trains again and to assure interconnections with foreign countries (Croatia, Serbia). It's done. The next step is to improve the service. Today, the train speed is 70 km/h, in three years they will travel at 100 km/h." In 2002, SFOR's funding will reach 3 million KM (1,53 M ) in BiH. At the same time the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will fund projects for 120 million KM (61,36 M ).
SFOR lines
In a larger point of view and following Military Minimum Requirement (MMR), SFOR sappers must allow total freedom of movement to troops by road, but also by rail. Metzner is in charge of the maintenance of the network used by SFOR within the theatre: the North-South line, from Brcko (Brcko District) to Ploce (Croatia), through Sarajevo and Mostar, 870 kilometres in length; and the East-West line from Doboj to Bosanski Novi (RS, Croatian Border). The engineer branch rail operations has two companies as interlocutors: ZRS and, in Fed, "Zeljeznice Bosnia i Herzegovina" (ZBH). In addition, the Railway Directorate of Mostar has a specific status. Finally, Todorovic hopes that all will be gathered at a state-level Public Railway Corporation.
"Mister Joachim" was also moved by this last visit, but he didn't hide his satisfaction in having participated in this programme. In Germany, he teaches logistics at an Air Force Technical Engineering School. He volunteered for this first tour: "I didn't want to spend six months in an office," he said. "This job allowed me to meet the people and discover the country, in an always friendly atmosphere. It seems to me that I was an SFOR ambassador and that I participated a bit in improving BiH's infrastructure."

Related link: SFOR at Work