This proposed high-speed line (HSL) would link Tiranë (Tirana) and Shkodër, parallel to the existing line. It would be complementary to other new lines: a HSL from Shkodër to Podgorica, and a HSL south-east from Tiranë to Athina (Athens) and Thessaloniki, starting with a new line to Elbasan. A HSL north from Podgorica, parallel to the Lim valley line, would be very difficult to build, but could link these lines to a European HSL network. (All proposals here ignore current borders, and are made from a European perspective).
Click to enlarge…
The population of Albania is increasingly concentrated on the coastal plains. The plain between the three cities of Tiranë, Durrës and Shkodër, has a population of about 1.5 million. There are widely varying estimates of the population of Tiranë itself (400 000 up to 900 000). The city has been expanding north-west into the plain, by unregulated sprawl, with ribbon development along main roads. The sprawl has now reached the airport at Rinas. By western European standards this is a small regional airport, with 1,3 million passengers annually, but as numbers increase and the area becomes residential, it might have to be relocated.
Click to enlarge: the coastal plain between Tiranë and Shkodër, about 85 km apart. The vertical axis (height) is exaggerated on the images. Even at this scale, the sprawl and ribbon development around Tiranë is visible…
The existing rail line to Shkodër does not start in Tiranë itself, and its alignment is at first indirect. It diverges from the 1949 line to Durrës at Vorë, and it was slowly extended to Shkodër in the 1960’s and 1970’s. North of Mamurras, the alignment itself is reasonable – at the edge of the mountains (where the larger villages are located), with stations roughly 10 apart. However, the line was built for very low speeds, and it has been neglected for 20 years. The one daily service has an average speed of 29 km/h.
The proposed new line can be considered in four sections. The first is a new central station and Tiranë exit line. The present station is a dilapidated single platform. Tiranë has an obvious location for a new central station: under the huge central Skënderbej square (mainly asphalt). The station could be reached by a 1200m tunnel, from the existing approach tracks beside the Tirana river. More ambitiously, through a 5-km tunnel under the main Durrës road, which starts at the square, and extends in an almost straight line north-westwards. Further out, the tunnel could join the existing rail alignment toward Vorë, which is parallel to the road. All or part of the new alignment, could be used for an urban-regional metro line, to Durrës and the airport. Most of the Durrës road is very broad, and would allow construction of a 4-track tunnel, but the section nearest the square is narrower. Both central alignments could connect to a future south-western line, across the mountains to Elbasan. (The exact location of the central station it is not considered further here).
The second section of the new line would start from the existing alignment near Bërxull, and run almost due north to the airport. This would avoid the worst of the sprawl, but some demolition is inevitable. At the airport, the line could run on viaduct along the access road, with a station directly connected to the terminal. From there, the new line would again run north, to a new station on the west side of Fushë-Krujë. The growing town has a population of 24 000, the District of Krujë 78 000. (Fushë-Krujë means ‘Lower Krujë’, the historical town of Krujë is in the foothills to the east). Fushë-Krujë station would logically be situated on the western road out of the town. It is a logical terminal for an urban-regional metro (S-Bahn) from Tiranë. A short link from the old line to the airport would allow a similar service to/from Durrës, via Vorë.
From Fushë-Krujë, the third section of new line would run north to Lezhë. Near Mamurras, it would cross the existing line, which serves Mamurras itself, the district capital Laç (population 25 000), and Milot. In combination with the link Durrës – Vorë – airport, it would make sense to route all passenger trains over the new alignment, north of Fushë-Krujë. Regional trains would use a connection to the existing line at Mamurras (10-km joint section shown in red).
This would allow a better combination of services: a regional service Durrës – Vorë – – Fushë-Krujë – Shkodër, with interchange with fast inter-regional trains at Fushë-Krujë and Lezhë. (Two existing stations would be closed, but they don’t serve any large villages).
North of Mamurras, the new line would cross the plain and the river Mat, in a straight line to Lezhë station. Lezhë has a a population of about 17 000, the District of Lezhë about 68 000. The station is well located, but (besides reconstruction) the short tunnel just north of it needs to be replaced. The tunnel is needed to pass under a ridge here. At Lezhë the Drin flows through a gap in the hills, and there is barely enough room for the river and the road. The station must also allow for non-stopping trains, and for freight and regional trains on the existing line.
The fourth section of the new line would run from Lezhë to Shkodër. The existing line keeps to the eastern side of the plain – partly because it crosses the Drin again at the Vau-Deja dam (south-east of Shkodër), and partly to avoid several low hills in the middle of the plain. With a new Drin crossing more to the south of Shkodër, the new line can cut through the plain. Only one short tunnel would be needed, for an almost straight alignment. The new line would be faster, but not however much shorter than the existing 35-km section.
Shkodër is the only city between Tiranë and Podgorica. It has a population of about 85 000 (over 100 000 according to some sources), with about 185 000 in the District of Shkodër. The new line from the south would cross the river Kir into the station, which is just north of the river, and east of the centre. There is no sprawl on this side of the city, as yet, since the river is a barrier.
The new line would be about 90 km long. Until there are connecting high-speed lines a fast inter-regional service is sufficient. With three intermediate stations, on a completely new line, a Tiranë – Shkodër journey time of under 40 minutes is feasible.