Gorizia and Nova Gorica form a single urban area, divided by the Italian / Slovenian border since 1947. They also have an inconvenient railway layout, with two stations, each connecting to different routes. However, the bad railway planning can not be blamed on the post-war division of Europe. The lines were built before the First World War, when the whole region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Click to enlarge: Gorizia and Nova Gorica from the west.
Gorizia (population 36 000) is the historic town, built around a castle overlooking the the Isonzo / Soča river. Under Austrian rule, it was known by its German name, Görz. The first station was on the south side of the town: it is still the main station, on the 83 km Trieste – Gorizia – Udine line – highlighted in orange. The line, as far as Cormons, was built by the Austrian Südbahn-Gesellschaft, as the main line to Venice. (The shorter line via Portogruaro was not completed until 1894).
Click to enlarge: The base map is an Austro-Hungarian military map of around 1910, with many German place names.
In 1905, a rail route along the river Isonzo was opened, the Wocheinerbahn from Jesenice – highlighted in blue. Around the same time, a line was built across the Kras Plateau to Trieste, the Karst-Bahn – highlighted in green. The Wocheinerbahn had a station on the northern side of Gorizia. This meant that the town now had two stations, Görz Südbahn and Görz Staatsbahn. Although the Karst-Bahn was in effect the continuation of the Wocheinerbahn, it officially started at Görz Südbahn, with a link of about 2 km to the other line.
The whole region passed to Italy after the First World War. After changing hands several times during the Second World War, the region was divided in 1947 between Italy and the People’s Republic of Slovenia (part of Yugoslavia). The historic town centre was allocated to Italy, but the border ran through its outskirts.
The entire rail line along the Isonzo was allocated to Slovenia, including the northern station. The border ran alongside the line in places, and right through the station square. (See these images of the border in 2005). Since Slovenia had lost access to the regional centre, the Yugoslav government developed a new town, Nova Gorica, which now has 13 500 inhabitants (municipality 36 000). Since Slovenia had at least got the station, the new town was built alongside the railway line, but on the other side of it. Görz Südbahn is now Gorizia Centrale station, and Görz Staatsbahn is Nova Gorica station.
The border itself ceased to be an obstacle in December 2007, when Slovenia joined the Schengen Zone. However, the urban area is still affected by the legacy of division, and it has in effect two separate rail services. The connecting line is inconvenient for any of the existing passenger services.
The first step in improving the regional rail services, is to abandon the indirect existing route from Trieste to Udine (83 km). The logical solution is a cut-off line to Cormons, and there is no problem with the alignment – because it is there already. Construction of a Cormons – Redipuglia line started in 1949, and was abandoned in 1989, one of several unfinished lines in the region. Completing this line would allow a direct regional service Trieste – Udine. Service to Gorizia can then be split into two regional lines: from Trieste (population 209 000), and from Udine (population 99 000). That means in turn, that a through station (Gorizia centrale) is no longer necessary. Several options are then available, to re-align the connections in Gorizia / Nova Gorica. If possible, that should also allow a through service from the Jesenice line, and along the plateau line toward Trieste. (That would connect at Villa Opicina with the planned high-speed rail line Venezia – Trieste – Ljubljana). The re-alignment should also facilitate a local service to Ajdovščina in the Vipava valley (on the 1902 Wippachtalbahn).
The simplest option is a shorter version of the existing connecting line. It would run through the fields between Gorizia and Šempeter , parallel to the Via Terza Armata (or possibly under it). The line would have a new station (shown in red), about 1100 m from the old town of Gorizia. Trains from Trieste would no longer serve Gorizia Centrale, but the new station is closer to the historic centre. Trains from the Udine direction would pass through Gorizia Centrale, and then turn north to the new station, terminating at Nova Gorica. A disadvantage is the sharp curve (shown in blue). This alignment could be used for freight, in combination with a tunnel under Gorizia for regional trains.
An alternative (avoiding the sharp curve) is a re-routing of the line from Udine, so that it enters Gorizia from the south, like the line from Trieste. A new cut-off line would turn south-east from Mossa, crossing the Isonzo beside an existing road bridge (SS56var). It would join the by-pass line, avoiding Gorizia Centrale entirely. To serve southern Gorizia, there would be a new station, on the Via Trieste at the motorway junction (trains from Trieste would stop there also).
The shortest possible route between the two existing stations is a tunnel under central Gorizia, about 4 km long. Its northern portal would logically be just south of Nova Gorica station, alongside the existing short tunnel (under the hill at Pristava). The southern portal could be immediately after the platforms at Gorizia Centrale: the tunnel would then turn north. The ground slopes upward, which facilitates tunnelling under the town centre. There would be a station under the castle hill, with an entrance from the old town, for instance at Piazza della Vittoria (the rail line would be lower than the existing road tunnel). From there, it would continue to Nova Gorica station, emerging just north of the existing level crossing. The great advantage of this line is that it serves the historic centre, and can function as an urban line, within the double urban area.
Trains from Udine could not access this tunnel without reversing, although a tunnel connection starting directly after the Isonzo bridge might be possible (shown as a green-white line). They could also access it from a Mossa cut-off line. In these variants, Nova Gorica would be the interchange station – served by trains from Jesenice, Villa Opicina, Trieste and Udine.