The Vojvodina, an autonomous province of Serbia with about 2 million inhabitants, includes the historic regions of Bačka, Banat and Syrmia. The Bačka region is a plain between the rivers Danube and the Tisza/Tisa, and forms the western half of Vojvodina. However, it has no natural boundary on its northern side, and part of it is now in Hungary. The Bačka is a flat agricultural region, with a relatively high population density, and a total population of just over a million people.
The rail network is a product of historic circumstances, and is not geographically optimal. It was built within the Kingdom of Hungary, when the Bačka was a single administrative unit, the former Bacs-Bodrog county.
Click to enlarge: Bacs-Bodrog County, circa 1880, from Wikimedia…
The railway lines were generally aligned north-south. South of the Danube was the autonomous Croatia-Slavonia, and there were only two Danube bridges. (The two lines terminating at Palanka were logical at the time: they could ship agricultural produce to a river port).
The first main lines were built around 1870, the rural lines around 1890-1910. The map below shows the historical growth of the network.
Click to enlarge: Bačka rail network 1869-1915, with Hungarian place names, CC3.0 licence, map by user VT.
The partition of the Kingdom of Hungary after the First World War cut many railway lines. Rural cross-border lines were closed, leaving only a few international main lines. Many internal rural lines were closed later anyway. In the Bačka, most towns and large villages are still served by the surviving lines, often of poor quality. The abandoned alignments are still available, but they often served only a few villages. A general restructuring of the regional rail network would, however, justify re-opening of a few closed sections.
Old and new main lines
New high-speed lines (HSL) would be the backbone of network restructuring in the Bačka. The only surviving main line is between Subotica and Novi Sad, line, part of the Budapest – Belgrade route (Kelebia route). It was part of a “Pan-European Corridor”, but these projects are now being re-evaluated. The line would be part of the earlier proposed high-speed line from Budapest to Belgrade. Some high-speed train might stop at Vrbas (population 26 000): in any case, the existing line and service would be upgraded.
The proposed HSL Budapest – Belgrade via Baja, Sombor and Novi Sad would add a second north-south axis in the Bačka. A third axis would be formed by the proposed regional line Szeged – Bečej – Novi Sad, along the Tisa.
In the northern Bačka, all three axes would be crossed by the upgraded lines from Sombor to Subotica and on to Szeged. That transverse axis would continue as the proposed Sombor – Vinkovci regional line. This line via Apatin can be considered as a fourth north-south axis, although only part of it is in the Bačka.
Click to enlarge: Sombor-Vinkovci, original alignments in black/white; Apatin cut-off in green; HSL and new Borovo curve in orange.
This line would provide interchange at Dalj, with trains to Osijek. It is the successor to the existing Erdut line, restoring the strategic route of the Alföld – Fiume line (1870), between Szeged, Sombor and Osijek.
In the southern Bačka, a new HSL Zagreb- Novi Sad, via Vinkovci and Vukovar would run parallel to the Danube, with no intermediate stations in the Bačka. The proposed fast Novi Sad – Zrenjanin line would probably have one intermediate station in the Bačka, at Zabalj. In the northern Bačka, the comparable inter-regional line Subotica – Kikinda would also cross the Tisa, with perhaps one intermediate station, at Senta.
Two regional lines were proposed here earlier (shown green on the diagram). The east-west regional line Novi Sad – Odžaci – Osijek, is an upgraded version of existing Serbian line 21. The proposed Sombor – Zrenjanin service (including the existing line 25), would use a new bridge between Bečej and Novi Bečej. At Vrbas, it would cross the proposed HSL Budapest – Beograd.
Restructured radial lines around Odžaci…
If the HSL Sombor – Novi Sad ran via Odžaci, it could also allow interchange with the Novi Sad – Osijek regional line. (The earlier proposed alignment runs east of Odžaci, which has about 10 000 inhabitants). A station at Odžaci would also justify extending the existing branch to Bač, over its old alignment to Bačka Palanka. Re-opening of the old alignment from Odžaci to Crvenka (built 1908) would allow an Odžaci – Kula – Vrbas service.
Click to enlarge: the old line from Odžaci to Crvenka (highlighted blue), and the surviving line from there to Vrbas, in red. Austro-Hungarian military map of around 1910, with Hungarian place names.
If the HSL Sombor – Novi Sad used the abandoned alignment via Bački Brestovac, then a third track would be sufficient for regional services, north of Odžaci. The existing Sombor -Erdut line (Serbian line 20) would then carry a residual local service, to Dalj or Osijek. (Its present function would be displaced by the proposed Sombor – Vinkovci line).
Bačka Palanka is at present only served by a branch line from Gajdobra, on line 21 (Novi Sad – Odžaci). This route from Novi Sad is indirect, and can not offer an alternative to the shorter main road along the Danube. The best option here is probably a regional tram line parallel to the main road, about 40 km long.
The lines listed here are probably the maximum extent, of a rail network in the Bačka. Other rural lines, such as Subotica – Crvenka – which served only three villages on a 62-km alignment – would not justify re-opening.