Fierce battle expected by suitors of TRAINOSE, Thessaloniki port

The sell-off of Greek railways is coming to the fore after state privatization fund TAIPED set the process in motion on Friday, while sources suggest that interest has already been expressed by the Russian railways, Chinese groups and European corporations.

Among the companies from Western Europe eyeing railway operator TRAINOSE, according to sources from the Transport Ministry, are France’s SNCF, Italy’s Trenitalia and Germany’s Deutsche Bahn. Some officials do not rule out the creation of a consortium, for instance by the Russians with a French or other Western European company, while there have also been contacts reported between Chinese and Russian officials for TRAINOSE in the recent past.

The emergence of Greece, and the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki in particular, as a major European point of entry for imports from Asia makes the control of Greek railways and of the country’s two biggest ports very significant in geopolitical terms. While Chinese group Cosco Pacific is seen as the biggest contender for the privatization of the Piraeus Port Authority (OLP), a fierce battle is anticipated to take place over the controlling stake in Thessaloniki Port Authority (OLTH) and for TRAINOSE.

Cosco chief Captain Wei Jiafu expressed his company’s interest in the sale of TRAINOSE to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras last week on the occasion of his visit to Greece for the opening of Dock III in Piraeus, which Cosco delivered three years ahead of deadline and will control through its subsidiary, Piraeus Container Terminal (SEP).

One day before the 150-million-euro investment was officially launched, Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis had said that the tender for TRAINOSE and for carriage management company Rosco would be proclaimed within the next two weeks, following the resolution of all legal issues between Greece and Brussels.

The main reasons why the privatization process for TRAINOSE did not start earlier were state subsidies, such as the absorption of losses by the state, the writing off of debts and the share capital increase. Negotiations with the European Commission on these issues appear to have been satisfactorily concluded, allowing for the sale of TRAINOSE and Rosco to go ahead.

According to sources close to the process, the tender for TRAINOSE concerns a 100 percent stake in the railway operator, which also utilizes more than 1,500 kilometers of the railway network.