The railway network in northern Serbia and Hungary was cut in many places after the First World War, when the Treaty of Trianon divided the then Kingdom of Hungary. The city of Kikinda was originally on an important Hungarian railway line, from Budapest to Timişoara via Szeged. It was one of the earliest lines in the region, built in 1857. A branch line was built from Kikinda to Zrenjanin in 1883, and extended to Pančevo in 1894. These were extensions of the Hungarian core network, and the line ended at the Danube: Pančevo was a Hungarian river port. On the other side was the Kingdom of Serbia, but there was no bridge.
Click to enlarge: Torontál County around 1900…
With ‘Trianon’, the region became part of Serbia, then Yugoslavia, and now Serbia again. Only in 1935 was Pančevo connected to Belgrade, on the other side of the Danube. So what looks like an internal Serbian line, from Belgrade north through the Vojvodina region, was never designed for that purpose. It is numbered as Serbian line 40, but the Kikinda – Zrenjanin section is in bad condition, with speed restricted to 30 km/h. This post looks at restructuring and upgrading as a new north-south route to Belgrade, extending a new high-speed route from Budapest to Serbia via Szeged. At present, there is no northern route into Belgrade from Szeged, across the Banat region.
Click to enlarge: Modern Banat by Andrei nacu, public domain.
Upgrading the route
Proposed here is a new double-track electrified rail line, generally on existing alignment, from Kikinda to Zrenjanin. The restored route from Szeged to Kikinda, with a new bridge over the Tisa / Tisza river, is not considered here. It was built as part of a main railway line from Budapest to Timişoara, and the proposed high-speed line would have the same function. Instead of a Tisza bridge inside Szeged, the high-speed line (HSL) would cross the river on the western side of the city, serving a new station on the main Subotica road.
Kikinda (population 38 000) would be an intermediate stop on that route. The station is on the eastern side of the town, and the single-track line to Zrenjanin diverges from the Timişoara line, about 500 m south of the station. The line first runs south-west to Novi Bečej, and then turns at right angles, running south-east to Zrenjanin, making it 68 km long. It would be possible to shorten it, with a 20 km cut-off line at Melenci, but that is not worth the trouble.
Improving the line Kikinda – Novi Bečej is a logical compliment to the proposed new link to Bečej across the Tisa river. Bečej is the largest town between Kikinda and Novi Sad, and a logical terminus and interchange for regional trains. It is also on the proposed regional line Szeged – Bečej – Novi Sad along the River Tisa. With the new river link, regional services can run from Kikinda to Bečej, from Bečej to Zrenjanin, and from Bečej to Vrbas (currently abandoned), as well as north-south along the Tisa line.
The line from Kikinda to Zrenjanin consists of straight sections linked by sharp curves – typical of 19th-century railways across plains. All can be improved with new curves, each with about 1500 m of new track. The stations at Melenci and Elemir would be shifted onto these new curves. Novi Bečej station can stay where it is, but the approaches would be improved with about 4 km of new alignment. (If all trains stop here, then only minor curve improvement is needed).
Zrenjanin (population 123 000) is 68 km from Kikinda. Trains would connect here to the proposed Novi Sad – Zrenjanin fast line and its extension to Timişoara. The station lies west of the city centre.
The upgrading of the line to Pančevo was proposed here earlier, with several new cut-off sections to straighten the route, and raise line speed to 200 km/h. One cut-off would simply connect southern Zrenjanin to Lukićevo, avoiding a right-angle turn. That option (orange on the map) uses the existing line through Zrenjanin, which has a sharp bend to the Begej River bridge. Another option is to cross the river further south, and then turn toward Lukićevo (shown in teal). A longer variant is also possible (light green), passing the village of Ecka and continuing alongside the road to Orlovat.
Upgrading would require new curves at Orlovat and Uzdin, with a relocated station at Orlovat. The existing line winds around these villages, to cross the Tamiš River marshes at right angles. A bypass for through trains could pass between the villages, but would require a viaduct through the marshes, and about 10 km of new line. South of Uzdin, the old line is almost straight, as far as Crepaja. From there, a new cut-off line would run to the edge of Pančevo: the existing line through Kačarevo would be abandoned.
The new sections (in blue on the map) would shorten the line by about 3-4 km, to about 70 km, and journey time Zrenjanin – Pančevo would be 30 minutes for fast trains.
The line enters the main station at Pančevo (population 76 000) from the east. There is also a connection to the more central “Town Station” (Pančevo Varoš). However, the main station would have interchange with trains on the proposed northern bypass of Belgrade.
From the main Pančevo station, trains would continue to Belgrade on an upgraded line (at present most of it is single-track). The line needs four tracks, for its proposed function as a major exit line from Belgrade. Via the existing Vračar tunnel, Pančevo is 23 km from Beograd Centar, the incomplete central station at Prokop. It would be somewhat closer to the old main station (Glavna Stanica), via the proposed second Danube rail bridge, and curved access tunnel.
The whole route would be about 160 to 163 km long, depending on the new bypass and cut-off sections. Total journey time Kikinda – Belgrade would be just under 80 minutes, for fast trains with two or three stops. That is an average of 120 km/h, which is not unreasonable, even if the Kikinda – Zrenjanin section has a line speed of 150 km/h.
The pattern of services would probably not include through Budapest – Kikinda – Belgrade trains. A more logical option is that all high-speed trains to Timişoara stop at Kikinda, and that passengers transfer to a Szeged – Kikinda – Zrenjanin – Belgrade service. That service could start at an upgraded Ujszeged station, on the south bank of the Tisza in Szeged, across the river from the city centre. In other words, it would run entirely south of the Tisza, inside the Banat region, except for the approach to the terminus in Belgrade.