This new rail line, from Elbasan to Pogradec on Lake Ohrid, would be the continuation of the proposed new line Tirana – Elbasan. It would parallel the existing line along the Shkumbin valley, which can not be substantially upgraded.
The new line would form part of a high-speed route, from Tirana (Tiranë) and Elbasan, south-east to Athina (Athens) and Thessaloníki. A single isolated high-speed line (HSL) over this route is not logical, because there is no existing rail network between Lake Ohrid and Thessaly. In its absence, the new lines would have some regional and inter-regional functions. The line beyond Pogradec is not considered here: more on that later.
Click to enlarge: the proposed line Tirana – Elbasan
The existing 78-km line, from Elbasan to Pogradec, was built in the 1960’s and 1970’s, under Enver Hoxha. Given the extremely limited resources of Communist Albania, it is not surprising that line speed is 40 km/h at most. The line’s utility is limited at present, because the planned connections to Kičevo (Macedonia) and/or Florina (Greece) were never built. The line does not even reach Pogradec itself: the station is about 5 km north of the town.
Because the region is thinly populated, the line had only 8 stations: Elbasan, Mirakë, Librazhd , Xhyrë, Qukës, Përrenjas, Lin, and Memelisht (the Pogradec station). On the new line, regional trains would serve only the district capital Librazhd (population circa 15 000, with about 80 000 in the district). All other stations would be served by the existing line, and are not a constraint on the new alignment. All trains would stop at Pogradec (population about 50 000). It is a district capital, and the only significant lake resort on the west shore of Lake Ohrid. The total population of the lake basin is approaching 200 000, and tourism is growing.
The existing line follows the Shkumbin river valley, as far as to Qukës. At Elbasan, the valley is broad, but after 10 km, it narrows to a gorge. About 40 km further, the line leaves this valley. It climbs to a small basin at Përrenjas, and from there to the larger basin of Lake Ohrid.
Elbasan itself has about 125 000 inhabitants. The present rail tracks through the city are of low quality, but the alignment would allow upgrading. There is also sufficient room for expansion at the station, south of the centre. Some curves would need improvement, especially where the line passes a hill just east of the city, but generally the first 10 km of the new line can be built next to the old line.
In the gorge, there is often no flat land on the valley floor except the river bed. Curvature and restricted space, rule out use of the existing alignment. The only option is a new alignment, with more viaducts and flank tunnels, probably higher up on the valley side.
At Librazhd, 24 km from Elbasan, the existing line crosses a bridge to the station, and then goes straight into a short tunnel, under part of the town. The new line could use a parallel bridge, and platforms beside the existing station, but then diverge into a longer tunnel.
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The Shkumbin turns south-east at Librazhd, still in a steep-sided valley. Here too, the new line can approximately follow the existing line, but with more bridges and tunnels where necessary. At the Bushtrice viaduct, the existing line begins to climb the valley flank. As it turns away from the Shkumbin valley, the river is at 415 m, and the rail line at 475 m. It is necessary to first gain height, for a further climb along a stream valley, to the level Përrenjas basin, at 575-600 m.
The new alignment can use a similar route to climb to the basin. It could also stay on the floor of the Shkumbin valley, and then climb to the Përrenjas basin via a 6-km tunnel, at about 25/1000 gradient. A combination is also possible, with a 3-km tunnel for the last section of the climb.
In the Përrenjas basin, the existing line stays at the north edge, and then turns north, to climb over the ridge to Lake Ohrid. The lake shore is at 700 m elevation: the line joins it at the Lin promontory. The new line could use a tunnel from the eastern tip of the Përrenjas basin, after first climbing along the basin side (shown in white). This tunnel would be about 4 km long, also at about 25/1000 gradient. (The shortest possible tunnel to the Lin promontory would be only 3500 m long, but it would be too steep). The new line could also cross the basin to its southern tip, at about 600 m, and then climb 100 m in a 6-km tunnel to Lake Ohrid (shown in blue). The tunnel is longer, but the total route to Pogradec is shorter.
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The shortest route option would avoid the Përrenjas basin entirely. The new line would continue along the Shkumbin valley, climbing to 450 m, and then climb directly to the Lake Ohrid basin, via a 10-km tunnel. This too would have a 25/1000 gradient, which rules out freight trains. The tunnel would reach the lake, at about 11 km from central Pogradec, 7 km north of the existing terminal station. The tunnel would shorten the route by about 6-7 km.
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At Lake Ohrid, there is some level ground near Lin, and in places along the lake shore. The new line can parallel the old line here. For most of the route, the hills extend to the water’s edge, and the existing road and railway were cut into the foot of the slope. On these sections, the options are to broaden this embankment for the new line, or build a flank tunnel.
Click to enlarge: the lake shore from Lin to Pogradec, the heights are exaggerated.
For the last of these sections, the location of Pogradec station is also relevant. A rail line along the lake shore is out of the question, since it is the town’s major economic asset. The best option is a 4-km tunnel, starting north of the town (and also avoiding difficult construction at the foot of the cliffs). The line would briefly surface to cross a stream valley, and then run under the main road through the town. It would preferably be in cut-and-cover tunnel, allowing a station in the centre, just 400 m from the lake. If that is not possible, the tunnel could run about 300 m further inland, where the ground is already higher, with fewer buildings. The line would surface at the southern edge of the town, heading south-east. (Toward Korçë and Kastoriá, more on that later).
With the shortest option (the 10-km Shkumbin – Ohrid tunnel), the Elbasan – Pogradec line would be about 74-75 km long. Journey time, with one stop in Librazhd, should be just under 40 minutes – a relatively low average of about 115 km/h.
The pattern of services would be simple. Trains over a future high-speed route to Athens and Thessaloníki, would start in Durrës, and stop at Tirana, Elbasan, and Pogradec, continuing toward Kastoriá. Inter-regional trains would also start in Durrës, and stop at Tirana, Elbasan, Librazhd, and Pogradec, before terminating at Korçë. Regional trains, on the old line, would run from Elbasan to Pogradec. (Any new link along the northern lake shore, from Kičevo and Ohrid town, would connect with the existing line at Lin, rather than directly to the new high-speed line).