Zrenjanin (population 130 000) lies 63 km north of Beograd (Belgrade). Although the terrain is flat, the rail route is indirect. When the railway lines were built, at the end of the 19th century, the Danube at Belgrade was the southern border of the Kingdom of Hungary. Opposite Belgrade was marshland, an island between the Danube and the Tamiš. The line northward therefore began at the river port of Pančevo. It was not connected to Belgrade until 1935, under the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
Click to enlarge: The lines around 1910, on an Austro-Hungarian military map, with Hungarian and German place names. Zrenjanin is shown as Grosz/Nagy-Becskerek.
The result is an L-shaped route, Belgrade – Pančevo – Zrenjanin. The section Pančevo – Zrenjanin was built as a local line, sharply curved near some stations: it is still a very basic rail line. However, much of it runs in a straight line across the plains, and is suitable for upgrading.
Although a bypass is possible, Pančevo itself is large enough, to justify a route via the city (population 77 000). That would also allow connections to the proposed cross-Danube line Pančevo – Kovin – Smederevo, and the proposed fast inter-regional line Beograd – Vršac – Timişoara.
The line to Pančevo, 23 km from the new central station in Belgrade via the existing cross-city tunnel, would need upgrading anyway, for the other proposals. It would also access the proposed new central station in Belgrade. The Belgrade – Pančevo line is not considered further here. The proposal is to upgrade and shorten the 74-km Pančevo – Zrenjanin section (Serbian rail line 40). On the flat plain, upgrading for a 200 km/h line speed is easy, making the line technically a high-speed rail line (HSL).
The line starts at the Pančevo Main Station, on the north side of the city. Just east of the station, it turns north in a 90° curve. This is not a major problem, because trains will not be traveling so fast here. The existing line then bends to serve Kačarevo (Franzfeld on the old map). The new line could run directly to Crepaja, in a straight line. This 11 km cutoff line would save 3 km. A shorter 8-km cutoff, starting 6 km from Pančevo, would still save 2 km on the whole route.
Click to enlarge: Kačarevo cutoff lines. north of Pančevo…
Both versions would rejoin the existing alignment at Crepaja. From there, the existing line would be upgraded, through the village of Debeljača, and the small town of Kovačica. With a population of 7000, Kovačica is the largest settlement on the route: it is 27 km from Zrenjanin. The line is at the edge of the built-up area, so widening should not be a problem.
North of Kovačica, the alignment is at first straight. It then curves through Uzdin and Orlovat, mainly to avoid the marshes along the Tamiš river. There are two options for improving it. A new line between Orlovat and Uzdin would run through marsh forest, so a bypass would need to pass west of Orlovat: it would be about 12 km long. It would save about 2500 m on the existing route, but it would not serve either village: the old line would be retained for regional trains.
A simpler option is new curves between the two stations, with a new bridge replacing the decrepit rail/road bridge at Orlovat. This option retains service of both villages, and only about 4 km of new alignment is needed. It would also retain the connection at Orlovat, with the line from Novi Sad via Titel (Serbian line 31).
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North of Orlovat, the line is again almost straight. After Lukićevo station, the line from Pančevo joins the line from Vršac, Serbian line 43. With a new direct alignment, and a junction closer to Zrenjanin, the route can be shortened by about 1700 m.
In Zrenjanin, a new station on the south side of the city would be a logical improvement: the best site is the crossing with the main road to Belgrade, Beogradska. The main station is close to the city centre, but is separated from it by an old river channel: the station and its access need improvement.
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The new line from Pančevo would connect here, with the proposed fast inter-regional line Zrenjanin – Timişoara, which is an extension of the proposed Novi Sad – Zrenjanin line. Together these form a new high-speed line (HSL) from Novi Sad to Timişoara: the line from Pančevo makes a T-junction with this route.
Trains from Pančevo could continue over an upgraded line to Kikinda (Serbian line 40, via Novi Bečej). There they would connect with the proposed high-speed line Budapest – Kikinda -Timisoara.
The existing Zrenjanin – Pančevo line is 73.5 km long. The Kačarevo cut-off, and the new approach to Zrenjanin, would shorten it by 4-5 km. In combination with doubling, electrification, and upgrading of the existing straight alignment, that would substantially cut journey times. The only stations would be at the named villages and Zrenjanin-South: in total 8 intermediate stations. Non-stop trains Pančevo – Zrenjanin should take about 30 minutes, from Belgrade about 40 minutes. Regional trains, from Pančevo to Zrenjanin, should take about 45 minutes.