Tallinn regional metro tunnel, revised

The central station of Tallinn (population 440 000) adjoins the Old Town, Vanalinn. This Old Town is built on a hill: the station (Balti Jaam) is on its north flank, close to the old port. That might seem a logical place to terminate the planned Rail Baltica high-speed line, but the government thinks otherwise. It wants to build a new interchange at Ülemiste, on the outskirts of the city, and that might lead to closure of the old main station. As in the other Baltic States, the Estonian government has a minimal commitment to rail travel, partly because it is seen as ‘Soviet’.

A beter alignment for a high-speed line (HSL) was proposed here earlier. By entering the city from the south-west, trains would be able to reach either Balti Jaam, or an interchange station at Ülemiste. A new 5-6 km tunnel could link those two stations, maximising interchange with between high-speed services and regional services.

Tallinn region lines

The tunnel is not intended for the high-speed trains, however. It is primarily intended for the existing Tallinn regional network, formerly Elektriraudtee, and now run by Elron. This network of 132 km around Tallinn, has the only electrified lines in Estonia. With further electrification, trains from the Rapla line might also use the tunnel. The line to Haapsalu could also be re-opened and electrified. All these lines are Russian gauge, although the Rapla line was originally narrow-gauge. The new tunnel would also have Russian-gauge tracks.

The function of the proposed tunnel is comparable with city-centre tunnels on other regional networks, such as the German S-Bahn and the French RER. The alignment proposed here would not run directly under the old town, but that is not necessary – it is all within walking distance of Balti Jaam.

Tallinn: public-domain satellite image by NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team…

tallinn-ASTER

Services from Tallinn run to Aegviidu (on the main line to St. Petersburg via Narva), to Paldiski via Keila, and to Riisipere via Keila. The 54-km line to Rapla via Saku could also carry regional servies.

The new tunnel would avoid reversal at Balti Jaam, balance traffic on the radial lines, create an east-west through service in the urban region, and allow better service of the central area. One or two new stations are possible on the tunnel section, serving the neighbourhoods directly east of the city centre. A station at the passenger ferry terminal is also possible, but difficult to construct. The additional capacity provided by the tunnel would also facilitate a new eastern line to Maardu. (The original version of this post suggested a line along Laagna tee, but it is better to serve Ülemiste).

Revised alignment

The first version of this post (2009) proposed a tunnel close to the Old Town, and a link back to the Keila lines. The alignment has been revised to avoid new buildings near the city centre, and the version here runs further east. It will pass close to the port basins, and that means that it must drop to under sea level. The tunnel will then climb toward Ülemiste, which is about 40 m above sea level. It might just be possible for the line to run on viaduct through the old port zone, which would simplify construction. (Most freight traffic has moved to the new port at Muuga).

Tallinn passenger terminal: image by Port of Tallinn under CC 3.0 licence

Old_City_Harbour,_Tallinn

Assuming an underground line through the port, the tunnel would start just outside Balti Jaam station. It would have its own underground platforms. The line would then curve around the Old Town, passing just south of the passenger ferry terminal. It would in fact pass under a dock basin, but that is only used by yachts, and could be reconstructed, or closed if necessary.

The line would then turn south: the terrain slopes upward here, so probably in bored tunnel. This section could have one intermediate station where the line crosses Gonsiori, or possibly two, on the Narva road and Laagna tee.

S-Bahn Keskilinn

Approaching Ülemiste, the line would briefly follow the Tartu road, and then turn east to connect to the main line. As at Balti Jaam, there is insufficient space to link directly to Ülemiste station, so the line would serve underground platforms, and then climb to the surface tracks. The original version of this proposal suggested an airport branch, but that would not serve Ülemiste station. A people mover between the station and the airport terminal is a better solution, which would also benefit passengers using long-distance trains through Ülemiste.

Click to enlarge: station and airport at Ülemiste…

Ülemiste station airport

The tunnel alignment would be 5-6 km long, from Balti Jaam to Ülemiste. Service frequency would not be as high as large urban-regional metros (RER, S-Bahn). A new line along Paldiski Maantee is a possible addition to the system: it would connect directly to the underground platforms at Balti Jaam. A line to Maardu would diverge from the main line east of Ülemiste, possibly running along Peterburi tee.

Indicative routes only…

Maardu Haabersti lines

With all lines in the region double-tracked, there would be no capacity problems for the remaining long-distance services. With a separate regional service to Rapla, services to Viljandi and Pärnu could start from Balti Jaam, and run non-stop to Rapla. Trains to the proposed new line to Saaremaa could also start at Balti Jaam, and run non-stop to Keila. Services on the eastern main line, to Tartu, Narva, and St Petersburg, would also start from Balti Jaam, and stop at Ülemiste, giving a double interchange with the regional services through the tunnel. Regional services from Tallinn could be extended to Tapa, where the Tartu and Narva lines split (70 km from Tallinn).

Obviously there are other possible alignments for a central tunnel in Tallinn. A shorter tunnel could run from Tondi station to Ülemiste, with a station under Liivalaia street. However, such southern alignments would not serve the Old Town, and would not allow a station at the passenger ferry terminal. The alignment through Balti Jaam could be complemented by a north-south tram tunnel under the station and the Old Town, emerging in the newer central area (Südalinn).

Tallinn regional metro tunnel, revised

Rail access to Lake Balaton

Lake Balaton, 90 km from Budapest, is the largest lake in Central Europe, and a major tourist destination. As tourism developed in the second half of the 19th century, railways were built along both northern and southern shores (Hungarian lines 29 and 30). There is a connecting line around the east end (30b), but not a complete circle. There is a 5 km gap at the western end, but with a detour you can still travel around the lake by rail.

Tihany peninsula on the northern shore: image by Lohen 11, CC 3.0 licence

1280px-Balaton_-_Tihany

This post looks at upgrading the lines to meet summer demand, including a circular rail line, and rationalisation of rail access, especially at the eastern end. Lake Balaton is 80 km long, and about 8 km wide in the central section. There are mountains to the north (Bakony), and the northern shore is hilly and indented. The lake itself is at 105 m elevation. The southern shore is straighter, level and has an almost continuous beach.

The railway on the southern side (line 30) runs parallel to the beaches, almost in a straight line. On the northern shore, Line 29 winds around the hills with many sharp curves. Line 30 is electrified, but despite being an international main line, it is mainly single track. Neither line has enough services to meet demand in summer – but they could not carry them anyway. The low quality of the lines illustrates the low status of rail travel in Hungary.

Function of Balaton rail lines

There is a historical pattern of rail travel to European resort areas. Locomotive-hauled trains left the large cities, ran as express trains for many hours, and then served small resort stations in tourist regions. That is no longer viable, but the price of faster service is that passengers must change trains – and carry less baggage.

Services around Lake Balaton should be split into three categories. First there is the main line along the lake shore to Nagykanizsa, a route through the region toward northern Croatia, Slovenia, and and Trieste. A parallel Balaton high-speed rail line was proposed here earlier, which would also be the main route to Zagreb. Secondly, there would be services providing access to the lake region, some stopping at all stations, but mainly inter-regional services stopping every 30-50 km. Finally there would be services inside the region, primarily along the shores of the lake. There should be a limited number of interchange points, between the different types of service.

Interchanges: trains from outside the region would serve only these stations…

exchange points

Given the number of tourists, a ‘lake shore metro’ around Lake Balaton would be justified. That would require double track on the entire route, and electrification on the northern shore. The southern section, from Balatonszentgyörgy to Balatonaliga, is 78 km long, with 29 intermediate stations. The northern section from Tapolca to Balatonakarattya is 84 km long, with 30 intermediate stations. Station spacing is about 2650 m on both lines, so new stations are probably not necessary, but the simple halts must be upgraded. The line around the western end of the lake from Tapolca to Balatonszentgyörgy is 35 km long, with 10 stations in use, a spacing of 3500 m.

It is not a good idea to run all-stations trains around the entire lake, a 200 km ride. Delays are inevitable, and circle lines amplify delays. For journeys across the central section of the lake, ferries provide shorter routes anyway. Instead services would be split into overlapping lines – for instance Fonyód – Siófok – Balatonalmádi and Fonyód – Keszthely – Tapolca. (The largest town, Siófok, would provide interchange with long-distance services, and would be overloaded if it was also a terminus for regional metro lines).

Possible split of lakeside services…

3-metros Balaton

In addition to electrification and double track, the lines must be upgraded. That is less of a problem on the southern shore: Line 30 has few curves, and usually enough space to improve them. Line 29 on the northern shore has short straight sections, separated by frequent sharp curves. Improvement is difficult here: the railway is squeezed between roads and housing. The current line speed of 80 km/h can probably not be increased.

The two cab videos below show the difference between the two lines: first Line 30 from Balatonszentgyörgy to Siófok…

then the curving Line 29 on the northern shore, starting from Tapolca…

A regional metro, with frequent trains in summer, is not compatible with frequent long-distance services, or with fast trains. The proposed high-speed rail line is a precondition for a regional metro on the southern shore. It would have no stations, but two link lines would allow some high-speed trains to serve Siófok, and then rejoin the high-speed line (HSL).

Through freight services must also be kept clear of Lake Balaton. That requires restoration of Lines 27 and 49: they provide a north-south bypass of the lake, on the eastern side (Veszprém – Lepsény – Dombóvár). For through east-west freight, the main lines 20 and 40/41 already provide an alternative.

Click to enlarge: Hungarian rail map by JolietJake_(Hu) with CC 3.0 licence

2000px-Magyarország_vasúti_térképe.svg

The eastern approach

The main line from Budapest (30a) was always the most important railway line toward Lake Balaton. It passes through Székesfehérvár, a railway junction 60 km from Budapest. The northern and southern lines to the lake split 10 km further on, at Szabadbattyán. The southern line (30) runs via Lepsény, and has a good alignment. The first lakeside station is at Balatonaliga, 35 km from Székesfehérvár. Line 29 to the northern shore winds past a few villages, with badly located stations. As a route to Lake Balaton, it has no advantages over the southern line: it could carry a residual local service into Székesfehérvár.

With a new link to the northern lake shore line, and major upgrading, the Székesfehérvár – Lepsény – Balaton line could carry all traffic from the east. The proposed parallel HSL would carry all traffic from Budapest to destinations beyond Nagykanizsa. With or without the HSL, there should be four tracks available, between Székesfehérvár and the lake. Fortunately, the new link from Lepsény can be combined with closure of the gap in the lakeside railway, allowing a new service around the eastern end of the lake. Szabadbattyán station would then lose its function, as a junction between the northern and southern lakeside lines, and might be closed entirely.

East approach Balaton

At the eastern end of Lake Balaton, there is an escarpment just behind the shore. Both Line 29 and Line 30 drop about 40 m to the lakeside, descending along the escarpment itself. A new link between Lepsény and Line 29 could do that too, between Balatonaliga and Gáspártelep. However, the escarpment is geologically unstable, with two visible landslides. A tunnel is probably simpler than stabilising it with concrete walls, and would have less impact on the environment.

The tunnel would start behind Balatonaliga, near the motorway junction, and then run parallel to the lake shore. After passing under the edge of Gáspártelep, the line would emerge from tunnel, cross a small valley, and join Line 29 toward Balatonkenese. To close the circle around the lake, a short additional tunnel is needed, connecting to Line 30 just south of Balatonaliga. The junctions between these tunnels, and their junction with the existing lines, would be grade-separated. Passenger traffic would be intensive here: trains around the lake cross trains from the Budapest region.

Balatonaliga

The new tunnel would have no stations, but there be a new station on the connecting line at Balatonaliga, below the existing station. The ‘lake metro’ trains from the direction of Siófok would serve this station, and then continue to Balatonkenese.

There are alternatives for this arrangement. The new links could run on the surface further inland (in green on the map), but they would be longer. Line 29 west of Székesfehérvár could be replaced by a new line along the M7 motorway. In fact both lines between Székesfehérvár and the lake could be relocated to a four-track line alongside the M7. The tunnel proposed here seems the simplest option.

Access from the north: Vienna

Historically, there was no direct main line to Lake Balaton from Vienna (Wien). The proposed high-speed rail line Vienna – Maribor would run via Sopron and Szombathely. The proposed Drava plain HSL would diverge from the Maribor line at Szombathely, and run via Zalaegerszeg and Nagykanizsa. Although Zalaegerszeg is closer to Lake Balaton, there is no connecting rail line, and there never was.

HSL south from Vienna to Maribor and Drava plain…

Vienna - Balaton HSL

With the proposed high-speed lines, Szombathely would be about 120-130 km from Vienna (and also linked to Graz and Maribor via Szentgotthárd). The best option for access to Lake Balaton would be upgrading of the route to Tapolca, over parts of lines 20, 25 and 26. The corridor is 101 km long: only Line 20 is electrified, with some double track. With full electrification, double track, and upgrading, an inter-regional service could run from Szombathely to Tapolca in 70 minutes, with one stop at Celldömölk. Even without a HSL this makes sense: Szombathely itself has a population of 80 000, and would benefit from a better link to Lake Balaton. However it is another 80 km from Tapolca to the east end of the lake, and the northern shore line is unsuitable for through fast services.

Access from the north: Veszprém

Veszprém is the only large town on the northern side of the Bakony range, and it is on the main line Budapest – Szombathely (Line 20). It is only 11 km from the lake in a straight line, but the terrain is an obstacle. Nevertheless, a line to Alsóörs was built in 1909, an extension of Line 11 from Győr. It was closed 60 years later. (There was also a freight siding between Line 27 and Balatonfűzfő, but is also closed.)

The old line highlighted in blue…

Old Veszprém line

A line from Veszprém to the lake is logical, and a Veszprém – Balatonfüred alignment would maximise its utility, serving the central part of the lake. There are local plans for a light-rail line, partly re-using the old alignment. (An alternative route via the old freight siding was also proposed, but that would be too indirect).

The old railway started at 210 m elevation, climbed to 280 m, and then descended to about 110 m on the lakeside, using a winding alignment around hills and ridges. In Veszprém itself, the alignment is largely built over, and near the lake it is surrounded by houses (built for the lake view). In the southern half of Veszprém, part of the old line might be re-usable with some demolition, and the section through the fields south of the city can be restored. Otherwise, a completely new alignment is needed. That would include a new north-south route through Veszprém, with at least 3 km of tunnel, and an 8 km tunnel to the lakeside line.

If the geology is favourable, the shortest option is a line from near the old Szentkirályszabadja station to Csopak (3 km east of Balatonfüred). The tunnel would drop from 280 m to 120 m, and this 2% gradient is acceptable for modern electric trains. The line would have one intermediate station in Veszprém, approximately at the present bus station in the centre, perhaps in cut-and-cover tunnel.

new line from Veszprém

Like the old railway, a new Veszprém – Balaton line could be operated as part of a regional line from Győr, but it might be more appropriate to operate it as part of the ‘lake shore metro’. That would simplify operation: light metro-type trains would be more suited for the climb to Veszprém, and a tunnel section there.

Access from the south-west: Nagykanizsa

Nagykanizsa would be served by the proposed Balaton HSL, and would be the interchange point for travel from the south-west, toward the western half of Lake Balaton. However, the city is 45 km from the lake, too far to extend the proposed ‘lake shore metro’. Instead, passengers could use two inter-regional lines toward the lake, and a residual regional line Nagykanizsa – Fonyód.

An inter-regional line along the southern shore of Lake Balaton would 154 km long, from Nagykanizsa to Székesfehérvár. It would have only two intermediate stations, Fonyód and Siófok. An inter-regional line Nagykanizsa – Keszthely – Tapolca requires a new west-to-north curve at Balatonszentgyörgy, to avoid reversing trains. Depending on its alignment, the route might be slightly shorter: 50 km from Nagykanizsa to Keszthely. It is another 25 km to Tapolca. Logically, this line could be combined with the inter-regional line from Szombathely to Tapolca, making it 176 km long.

Two interregional lines…

inter-regional Balaton

Along the lake shore, inter-regional trains might not be much faster than the ‘lake shore metro’, but they would be more comfortable. A train journey with more than 30 stops is unattractive, for that reason alone. On Line 30, modern trains serving stations at 3-5 km intervals could certainly average 60 km/h, and the inter-regional trains about 85 km/h. Along the whole length of the lake, the time saved would be up to 25 minutes, compared to an all-stations train.

Access from the south

There is no main line toward Lake Balaton, from the south or south-west. There are three rural lines, but only Line 36 from Fonyód to Kaposvár is useful as a link to the lake region. Kaposvár is the capital of Somogy County, and it is also on a through Budapest – Croatia route (Line 40/41). With double track and electrification, Line 36 could carry a fast service to the western end of Lake Balaton.

A Fonyód to Kaposvár service could be extended over Line 41 and 40, to Pécs, the main city of south-western Hungary. This is the current main railway to Pécs, but the alignment across the Mecsek range is indirect, in the form of a ‘Z’. A combination of high-speed lines, proposed here earlier, would create a new main route to Pécs. The HSL Budapest – Novi Sad would connect via a triangular junction south of Szekszárd, to a HSL Szekszárd – Pécs. The next step would be a high-speed line Győr – Székesfehérvár – Szekszárd. Although primarily intended as an alternative high-speed route from Vienna to Belgrade, this would also provide a fast line between Pécs and Székesfehérvár, by changing trains at Szekszárd. With the much higher speed on the new lines, this would be the fastest route from Pécs to the western end of Lake Balaton.

Additional infrastructure

The proposals above would substantially restructure services to the Lake Balaton region, and along the lake itself. They start from a desirable pattern of services, and stipulate the infrastructure that is needed. Implementation can be phased: it is obvious that double-tracking on the southern side (Line 30) is the first priority.

Some additional infrastructure is possible on the northern shore, but it is not a precondition for the proposed restructuring. For instance, the route from Tapolca to Balatonfüred could be shortened by a new alignment north of the Badacsony hill – about 5 km long, with 1500 m in tunnel. However that would have a very low priority, so long as the rest of Line 29 has so many speed-restricted curves.

One proposal can be ruled out: a rail line across the lake at the Tihany peninsula, which is a protected landscape with significant historical buildings. A low bridge would obstruct boats, a high bridge would be extremely intrusive, and a tunnel would pass under the deepest part of Lake Balaton, making service of the peninsula difficult. However, a shorter tunnel (3 km long) could start from the southern line between Zamárdi and Szántód, and terminate at an underground station on the southern tip of the Tihany peninsula. That would not substantially alter the pattern of services proposed here.

Rail access to Lake Balaton

Regional line Pančevo – Titel – Novi Sad

Novi Sad (population 250 000) is the capital of the Vojvodina region. It is connected to Zrenjanin, the region’s third city, Serbian rail lines 31 and 40. Passengers travelled indirectly via Titel and Orlovat: first north-west, then eastwards, and then back north-west to Zrenjanin. The route is de facto abandoned.

The railway bridge over the Tisa at Titel: image by Marek Ślusarczyk, CC 3.0 licence

038_Titel,_Knicanin,_Tisa,_Danube_-_Serbia

A new direct line via Žabalj was proposed here earlier. It would use a new eastern exit from Novi Sad station, shared for about 4 km with the proposed regional line Szeged – Bečej – Novi Sad.

That would also shorten the line to Titel. It could remain as a regional line, but it would be more effective to extend it toward the Belgrade region. The proposal here is to extend it south-east to Pančevo (population 77 000), rather than Belgrade itself. The reason is simply that the line would serve more people. The region directly north of Belgrade is largely empty. It is former marshland, the Pančevački Rit, lying between the Danube and the Tamiš River.

Click to enlarge: former marshes, from an Austro-Hungarian military map of 1897, with German and Hungarian place names.

Pancevacki Rit

The marsh was reclaimed for agriculture, and there is now some suburban development, but it is concentrated at the south end, within 5 km of Belgrade. More development is planned, but it would be more effectively served by the regional metro BG-Voz, or by a branch of the long-planned Belgrade Metro. The line proposed here is not a regional or urban metro. It is also not intended as a link between Novi Sad and Belgrade: there is already a direct line, and a parallel high-speed line was proposed here earlier. In any case, Pančevo itself would become a major interchange station, with the construction of the proposed northern bypass of Belgrade.

The most logical option is to extend a regional line, as a regional line. The new Titel – Pančevo section would be similar in function to the existing line Novi Sad – Titel, serving villages about 4 – 8 km apart. The new section runs parallel to the Tamiš River for about 35 km, and the villages lie on that river.

Titel - Pancevo line

Trains to Pančevo would use the proposed new north-eastern exit line from Novi Sad station. That is primarily intended for the new line to Zrenjanin, and it would follow the main road, crossing the DTD Canal. Trains would rejoin the existing Titel line near the village of Kać. The first 10 km of the route would therefore be on new alignment, avoiding the present detour north of Novi Sad. Trains would continue toward Titel on an upgraded and electrified line. (Electrification is not a precondition, but it is not worth building a new low-quality line).

Novi Sad north exit line

At Titel, trains would cross the Tisa River: via the new exit line, the bridge is 44 km from Novi Sad station. The new alignment to Pančevo would diverge from the existing line, about 2 km east of the Tisa bridge. It would run south-east to Čenta, pass south of that village, and then and east of Opovo.

The alignment would pass east of the smaller villages of Sefkerin and Glogonj, and then west of Jabuka. Here it would cross the river Tamiš into the Pančevački Rit. On the outskirts of Pančevo, it would join the existing line from Belgrade, which crosses the Tamiš again. There would be 42 km of new alignment between Titel and Pančevo, with five new stations at the named villages, which have about 3000 to 6000 inhabitants.

From the junction, it is another 2 km to the Main Station at Pančevo. Trains would enter the station from the west, so they could continue to the “Town Station” (Pančevo Varoš), closer to the city centre. At the Main Station, there would be interchange with the proposed northern bypass of Belgrade, and with InterCity and regional trains to Belgrade.

Jabuka - Pancevo

The new Novi Sad – Titel – Pančevo line would be 90 km long, with over half on new alignment. On the existing line to Titel it would have six intermediate stations, at Kać, Budisava, Šajkaš, Vilovo, Lok, and Titel (with Knićanin 7000 inhabitants). The total population served is about 30 000 on the line to Titel, and 20 000 from there to Pančevo. Given the proximity of the villages to Novi Sad and Pančevo, that would be sufficient to justify the line. Between Novi Sad and Titel, and from Čenta to Pančevo, the line would carry commuter traffic.

Near both cities, trains would share track with other services, so a pure light-rail service is not an option. On most of the line however, a simple single-track regional line is sufficient, so the proposed infrastructure is not excessive. It is appropriate for the Vojvodina, a flat agricultural region with large villages in linear patterns. The line should have two tracks at all stations, and if necessary some double-track sections, to allow 30-minute interval services in both directions. With 11 intermediate stations, modern light trains, and half the line on new alignment, journey time should be about about 90 minutes.

Regional line Pančevo – Titel – Novi Sad

Upgraded route Kikinda – Zrenjanin – Pančevo

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…

Torontal_county_map

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.

Modern Banat

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.

Szeged - Timisoara

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.

Kikinda - Zrenjanin railway

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).

Novi Becej

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.

Zrenjanin - 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.

Zrenjanin Pancevo

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.

Northern bypass…

Beograd north bypass

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.

Danube curve 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.

Upgraded route Kikinda – Zrenjanin – Pančevo