A new tunnel under central Belgrade, and a new Danube bridge, would provide capacity for the proposed new lines around the city. With a population of 1.6 million, Beograd (Belgrade) is a major destination, and also a strategic rail junction between Central Europe and South-Eastern Europe / Turkey.
The proposed new lines include a line from Kovin via Pančevo, an upgraded Belgrade – Vršac – Timişoara route, a new high-speed line (HSL) from Budapest, a HSL from Zagreb parallel to the existing main line, a HSL from Pécs via Osijek, a second HSL route from Vienna and Budapest via Szekszárd, a third HSL route from Vienna via Nagykanisza, and a second HSL via Novi Sad.
Despite Belgrade’s strategic location, the rail infrastructure is of poor quality. The historical explanation is the city’s frontier location. In the 19th century Belgrade was part of the Ottoman Empire, in an increasingly autonomous Serbian principality. The later Kingdom of Serbia (from 1882) also stopped at Belgrade. On the other side of the Sava and Danube, was the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was economically more developed.
Click to enlarge: The original rail geography, around 1910. The rivers were international boundaries, Zemun was an Austro-Hungarian frontier town, and the north bank of the Danube was marshland. The base map is an Austro-Hungarian military map of around 1910, with Hungarian and German place names.
The main line from Budapest was built in 1880-1883, to Zemun. In 1884, it was extended across the Sava into a terminal station in Belgrade itself. In the same year, a line was opened south from Belgrade station to Niš. This became the main line to Sofia, Athens, and Istanbul: all other lines to the south and south-east diverge from it.
All traffic from the west and north-west – from northern Italy, München, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Budapest – passes through Novi Beograd station and crosses the Sava, into the main station. Traffic to the south and south-east exits Belgrade, through Rakovica station on the line to Niš. This was, and is, the main traffic flow. Through trains on this axis must reverse at the Main Station. The line north across the Danube (Pančevo bridge) was not built until 1935: it has a tortuous connection to the main station, via the river port. (The bridge was blown up twice, and the present rail bridge is a temporary version built by the Red Army in 1945).
A new route through Belgrade has been planned for decades: the Belgrade Junction Project. It includes a new central station ‘Beograd Centar’, also known as Prokop (from its location). Like the older station, is also accessible from the west, across the Sava. Unlike the old station, trains would reach the south-eastern lines without reversal, via the new Dedinje tunnel. Beograd Centar is also connected, via the new Vračar Tunnel, to the Danube rail bridge.
Video on new station project: commentary in Serbian, many maps and diagrams.
The new rail layout has ‘design faults’ which limit its utility. However, that is not yet relevant, because the new station is still under construction – since 1977. (Two decades of war, international isolation, and economic stagnation, did not help). See the Beobuild Forum Prokop thread for many images and construction updates.
The only fully operational part of the project is the Beovoz line from north to west, through the two completed platforms at Prokop. Beovoz is an urban-regional train network, in and around Belgrade. It is modeled on the German S-Bahn, but it has a long way to go. Services are irregular and infrequent, and the trains are decrepit. Beovoz is planned to connect to a future Belgrade metro, or alternatively a light metro, but that is even further away.
Video: decrepit Beovoz train, at decrepit Novi Beograd Station…
The new central station does not alter the main traffic flow: it merely duplicates the route through Belgrade, between Novi Beograd and Rakovica. It eliminates train reversal, but at a price: Beograd Centar is further from the city centre, on the other side of a motorway.
The proposal here starts from these premises:
- European-level services will terminate in Belgrade: transit passengers will change trains. “Orient-Express” style trains, running more than 1500 km, are obsolete. Belgrade is the most logical terminus for such long-distance services, in south-eastern Europe.
- interregional services (running 150-500 km) will pass through Belgrade, and do need a through station
- urban-regional services (Beovoz) should have separate tracks, for instance across the Sava
- the old main station (Glavna Stanica) should be retained: unlike Beograd Centar, it directly adjoins the city centre
- the Vračar Tunnel is only suitable for Beovoz services, because of its three intermediate stations.
The main proposal here, is a tunnel north from the Main Station / Glavna Stanica. The new through platforms would be parallel to the existing main platforms, and possibly 5-10 m lower. That in itself requires major reconstruction: the station area is liable to flooding.
The tunnel would pass under the Old City, and then cross the Danube, toward Pančevo. The Old City is on a hill, 50 m higher than the station, which simplifies tunnel construction. The tunnel would be about 2100-2300 m long. Demolition is inevitable around its northern portal, where some alignments might cross the river port zone (major redevelopment is planned). The Danube bridge would be about 1300-1400 m long. On the north bank the line would turn north-east, to join the existing Pančevo line, which would be 4-tracked.
Click to enlarge: Three possible alignments. The white route is shortest, but requires a 1600 m bridge diagonally over the Danube, and a viaduct through the port zone. The red and blue variants are aligned with the street pattern on the south bank. The red variant is clear of other possible tunnels around Trg Republike.
This proposed tunnel under the city centre would have no stations: it is intended for long-distance traffic. Instead a second tunnel under the city centre would form part of an urban-region network, an upgraded version of Beovoz.
There are two possible alignments for the second tunnel. From Glavna Stanica, it could curve slowly east toward the Pančevo bridge station. A similar alignment was officially planned as a second regional metro line to Pančevo. Extension east of the Pančevo bridge is not considered here.
This variant (shown in red) would allow interchange with north-south trains, but there is no track connection with the Vračar Tunnel. The new tunnel would pass the port zone, and the line might even use the existing Dunav Station alignment. It would have three stations: near the central square Trg Republike, under the existing Pančevo bridge station, and one intermediate station near the river port zone. The tunnel section would be about 2500 m long.
Click to enlarge: Two indicative alignments, for a Beovoz line north from Glavna Stanica.
With an S-curve alignment, the second tunnel under the centre could connect directly to the Pančevo bridge. In that case, it would probably have two stations: one near Trg Republike, and one somewhere near Ulica Cvijičeva. It would have an underground junction with the existing Vračar Tunnel, and trains would use the existing Pančevo bridge station. In this variant it would be about 3500 m long. With tighter curves, the line could conform more closely to the street pattern, but trains would be slower.
Both variants are accessible from all lines into Glavna Stanica: either from the west (Zemun / Novi Beograd), or from the south-east. To improve service from the south-east, a new Topčider tunnel is also needed, replacing the existing curve around a hill. It would start near the E75 motorway bridge over the rail yards, and end about 400 m from Topčider station.
Click to enlarge: Topčider tunnel replacing the line around the hill…
The proposals here assume that Beograd Centar will be completed, but with an altered function. Beovoz trains from Novi Beograd toward Pančevo, via the existing Vračar Tunnel, would still pass Beograd Centar, as at present. Beograd Centar would also be used by inter-regional services, from Slavonia and the Bačka region, on toward the south-east via Dedinje tunnel. (For optimal use of the station, it should have a 4-track access across the Sava).
Beograd Center would not however become an international through station, and would not be the main station for inter-regional travel. Passengers to/from the urban region will probably change trains at Novi Beograd, rather than Beograd Centar. The Prokop station will always be somewhat dysfunctional: no new lines can correct its bad location. An alternative is therefore abandonment of the Prokop location, and a completely new central station project.