Going underground from Gara de Nord to Otopeni is a waste of money

Romania’s Minister of Transport, Ralu Fenechiu, yesterday suggested that the Bucharest metro’s M6 line, from Gara de Nord to Otopeni airport, may never be built.

Fenechiu said that the cost (upwards of €1 billion) could never be justified, and that a cheaper, overground alternative should be considered.

You can read the story (in Romanian) here.

Fenechiu is of course right, and we would like to point out that we have long suggested an overground route from Gara de Nord to Otopeni would be a far better option. We first did so some five years ago, in 2008. If the idea had been picked up by anyone in the corridors of power back then we’d quite possibly have a proper railway to the airport by now.

As it is, we have instead the Henri Coanda Express, an embarrassment of a service used by very few people which runs just seven times per day from Gara de Nord to a halt in the middle of nowhere; a 20-minute minibus ride (longer if traffic is bad) is required to complete the journey.

As we wrote back in 2008, building a subterranean railway at a cost in excess of €1 billion is ludicrous when such a low-cost solution is at hand. The current railway line (as used by the Henri Coanda Express) passes within three kilometres of the airport.

Otopeni

The only tunnelling required to link the line to the airport would be the last two and a half kilometres under the DN1 and the airport terminal. Otherwise, upgrading the existing CFR line is all that is needed. The cost would be a tiny fraction of tunneling all the way from 1 Mai (where the M6 would branch off from the M4) to Otopeni.

The people at TER (Tren Urban pentru Bucuresti) have also had the same idea. Here is their map of the proposed route:

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In other existing railway lines not being used to their full potential news, last year at about this time there was much talk of CFR restarting suburban services on some of the tracks which surround Bucharest (if not quite to the extent as TER proposed).

Did that ever happen?

  • For tourists, the bus from OTP to Gara de Nord (or all the way to Piata Unirii, in my case) was super scenic and a great ride. Way too long for any locals looking to get to and from, though.

    • Roger

      Yes. I’d agree with that.

  • Roger

    QUESTION FOR ALL:

    Out of interest who does everyone fly with from Romania to the UK and visa versa?

    p.s. I live nearer Manchester than Luton so don’t use Wizz Air 🙂

    • Lufthansa usually have excellent fares if you book well enough in advance.

      • Roger

        Thanks Craig and you’re right. I first used KLM and then switched to Lufthansa who I am happy with apart from the tight transfer schedules in the winter time, if your plane needs de-icing for example, you can easily miss your connecting flight (happened to me twice in four flights!)

        Booking well in advance as you say, you can get a return to Manchester for around £160.

        I have been toying with the idea of flying to Budapest and then onto Bucharest as by way of taking in another capital city/experience and also the low cost airline Jet2 fly to Budapest from Manchester, but I do try and avoid low cost airlines if possible!

        • Expatescu

          Tarom or British Airways. If you book a fair amount in advance you can get very reasonable fares.

          • Worth noting that easyJet start flying from Otopeni to Gatwick again from October. An airline I like, not least because their seats do not recline.

            • Roger

              Thanks, just had a look at prices and very reasonable, roughly £70 return which is a great price.

              Sadly for me there are no such flights from Manchester.

              If low cost airlines started to fly to Romania from the majority of major airports in the UK and all year round, it would be great for tourism.

            • Mr Rearguard

              @Craig. I know what you mean about the seats. I get annoyed when someone in front of me puts their seat back. I’m above average height so I need the extra space. However, I have found a way to resolve this problem. You know those air blowers all planes have postioned above your head yes? Tilt all three of them forward (aimed at the cock reclining in front of you) and have them blasting air out on their maximum setting. I guarantee the person will move back forward and out of your personal space for ever. Happy flying.

  • Roger

    It would be nice to have a proper link to the airport from Gara De Nord.

    It is around 35 lei in a taxi and 8 lei on the Henry Coanda Express 0r the bus, which I have never used to/from the airport but if it anything like the other buses in Bucharest then it will be a free ride as nobody seems to ever pay for a ticket!

    The train is ok, quicker than I thought to transfer from station to airport, only 7-8 mins max, although maybe I was lucky with traffic?

    I agree it needs more trains and regular intervals but it was only a 12 seater mini bus so God knows what they do if they have a train full!

    Another quirky experience of Romania and one of the many reasons I love the place 🙂

    I think I’ll end up marrying a Romanian as I enjoy spending time there and the vast majority of the people are great (better than majority of Brits in my age range 25-35) but sadly my job in the UK would not pay anywhere near the same rate in Romania.

  • Jeroen

    Why even tunnel, just stick it onto a bridge to cross the road, and let it connect to the upper level of the terminal. Much cheaper and quicker to build.

    • I can see security issues a plenty with that.

  • Andy H

    Is the plan to move the airport to some location to the south of the city still active? If it is (and I fervently hope it isn’t as it would make my working life pretty much intolerable), then what’s the point of any of this?

    • Not that I know of.

      As for the point of this, a train which went from Gara de Nord to the airport terminal in 10-15 minutes would be very well used.

      • Andy H

        No I get that. I think this would be very useful. But if it’s going to be xBn RON investment on an airport which will effectively close a couple of years later, then it’s a bit less appealing.

        I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that this Giurgiu (or wherever) airport is about as likely as the Brasov-Bors motorway. Thanks to a number of factors (better roads, bypasses of Brasov and Ploiesti,and moving 15 minutes south), it’s now only a 3 hour drive for me to Otopeni. South of Bucharest would basically double that.

        • I see, yes, you are right. No, I doubt that the Giurgiu airport will ever see the light of day.

    • Parmalat

      Not at least until the real estate market gets back on track.

      Cause that was the whole deal: free the land at Otopeni so they can steal it. But now it’s pretty much worthless so the answer is no, we’re not gonna be moving the airport too soon…

  • Greg

    Hopefully logic and sound planning will prevail.

  • Phil

    Good job the Metrorex maps already show the airport line being built, then.

    • They have also I believe renamed some of the stations. That has to be a world first, renaming stations which haven’t even been built yet.

      Fenechiu could get a prison sentence today by the way (for an alleged fraud involving transformers). Doesn’t make him wrong about this though.

      • Parmalat

        Fenechiu’s prison sentence is gonna be Romania’s gift to America for its birthday…