South of Baja in Hungary, a local railway once served villages along the Danube floodplain, then connected to the main line at Sombor. It was built around 1912, and was a secondary rural line. There was another more direct line from Baja to Sombor, via Gara. Both lines were built inside the former Kingdom of Hungary. The region is now split between Hungary and Serbia, most local lines were closed, and the surviving rail services are peripheral.
The proposed high-speed line Budapest – Szekszárd – Novi Sad would transform the regional railway geography. Baja and Sombor, 50 km apart, would be stations on a new high-speed route, from Vienna and Budapest to Belgrade. In that context, it is worth considering restoration of rail services on the former Baja – Bezdan – Sombor line. Given the indirect alignment, and the modest population served, a simple regional tram line would be appropriate.
Baja and Sombor (Hungarian Zombor) lie in eastern part of the flat Bačka region. Baja is on the Danube, Sombor is about 20 km east of the river. The river floodplain is wide, with many former meanders, now lakes or marshes. At the edge of this meander zone is a line of villages, extending due south from Baja. These villages were close enough, and large enough, to justify a railway, even though there was a more direct route from Baja to Sombor.
When the line was built, it lay within the former Bacs-Bodrog county in the Kingdom of Hungary. The map below shows only the older main rail line, running east-west through Sombor, but the line of villages along the Danube floodplain is clear.
Click to enlarge: Bacs-Bodrog County, circa 1880, from Wikimedia…
The main north-south line through the county was built in 1895, from Baja to Sombor, via Gara. The roughly parallel standard-gauge secondary line via Bezdan was built in 1912. South of Sombor, it was extended in a zig-zag route to Apatin and Odžaci. Only the short Sombor – Apatin section is still in use (as line 24 of Serbian Railways).
The proposed high-speed line (HSL) from Baja to Sombor would parallel the old rail line via Gara, but would not use its alignment. The Gara line could certainly be re-opened, for regional services to intermediate stations, but the HSL would carry all traffic between the two small cities. In these circumstances, the sole purpose of a re-opened Bezdan line is to connect the villages to Baja and Sombor. It would carry no through passengers.
The abandoned alignment via Bezdan is still available – most of it runs through open fields. A regional tram line, segregated from the other rail infrastructure, is the best option. The line would be about 58 km long. (Compare the proposed 55-km regional tram line Roermond – Maaseik – Maastricht along the river Maas, in Belgium and the Netherlands).
In Baja (population 40 000), the station has plenty of room for extra tracks. Even with new high-speed tracks, the alignment south from the station has room for parallel tram tracks. It is however peripheral to the city centre, and a street alignment seems a better option. The tram could run via Szegedi ut, and then the main north-south route (Arany Janos / Szent Antal), or via the parallel Szabadsag ut, passing the main square. Most of these streets are wide enough for a tram line, even in the centre. At the southern edge of the built-up area, the new tram line would rejoin the old rail alignment.
The alignment is parallel to the present highways 51 (Hungary) and 18 (Serbia), in some places alongside it. South of Baja, the line passes the villages of Bátmonostor, Nagybaracska, Csátalja, Dávod, and Hercegszántó, each with 1500 – 2200 inhabitants. In most cases, the former station was at the edge of the villages, and the site is still available.
Typical alignment, here at Bački Breg: fields to the east, Danube meanders to the west, and the north-south line on the edge of the village….
After the Hungarian – Serbian border, the line passes Bački_Breg (population 1900) and Kolut (1700). The next station is at Bezdan, population 5000, the largest place on the line. (Here too the old station survives).
The alignment from Bezdan to Sombor is indirect, because it serves one more village, Bački_Monoštor (population 4000). A new alignment across fields, or parallel to the main road, would save about 2 km on the 18 km alignment: not worth the trouble. At Sombor (population 50 000), the tram line would run directly to the station, on the northern edge. There it would connect to the proposed HSL to Belgrade, the upgraded line to Subotica, and three other regional lines.
Click to enlarge: the HSL alignment at Sombor, with bypass and link to station…
The combined population of the villages, along the Baja – Bezdan – Sombor line, is about 22 000. That is very few for nearly 60 km of restored rail line. Nevertheless, the linear concentration and spacing of the villages should justify the infrastructure – as it did in 1912. The regional tram line would be mainly single-track, and the service frequency low, at least on the central section. There might be more trams between, for instance, Bezdan and Sombor, and also in the peaks.
There are infrastructural alternatives, which would impact on the Baja – Bezdan – Sombor line. At the south end, a new line is possible from Sombor to Osijek, crossing the Danube near Bački Monoštor and entering Osijek from the north. This line would probably use the old alignment from Sombor to Bački Monoštor, and could include a branch to Bezdan. The new route Sombor – Osijek would effectively replace the existing route, via the Erdut bridge. This project is itself an alternative, for the earlier proposed Sombor – Vinkovci inter-regional line.
Nearer Baja, the existing dead-end line to Mohács from Villány (Hungarian line 65), might be extended across the Danube to Baja. That was almost certainly the plan when the line in Mohács was built, at right angles to the river bank. The extended line from Mohács would use the old alignment from Nagybaracska into Baja, serving that village and also Bátmonostor.
In both these options, the 1912 alignment would be used for a new ‘heavy rail’ line, and that is not compatible with a tram service. A regional tram is only an option on those old rail or tram lines, which can be fully segregated from new and upgraded infrastructure.