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…


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

Fast Pančevo – Zrenjanin line

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.

Original rail route Pančevo - Zrenjanin, Kingdom of Hungary, circa 1910

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…

New rail alignment north of Pančevo, on line to Zrenjanin

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).

Click to enlarge:

Options for re-alignment of the Pančevo - Zrenjanin rail line at Orlovat

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.

Click to enlarge:

New alignment of line from Pančevo, and new station in south Zrenjanin

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.

Fast Pančevo – Zrenjanin line

Fast inter-regional line Beograd – Vršac – Timişoara

Proposed is a heavy upgrading of the rail route from Beograd (Belgrade, population 1.6 million), to Timişoara (the second city of Romania, population 310 000). In practice that means closure, and construction of an electrified double-track line on the existing alignment, with some new cutoff sections. The upgraded line (Ausbaustrecke) complements the proposed inter-regional line Zrenjanin – Timişoara and proposed HSL from Budapest to Timişoara via Szeged.

The present rail route was constructed in sections, influenced by the history of the region. Most of the route lay in the Kingdom of Hungary, in the historical region of the Banat.

Click to enlarge: Map of modern Banat by Andrei nacu, public domain.

Modern Banat

The Banat is now divided between Serbia and Romania. The line south from Timişoara (Temesvár in Hungarian) to Vršac (Versec) was built as a main line in 1858. It ended at the Danube river port of Baziaş (long abandoned but still visible). The section within Romania is numbered line 922.

The Vršac – Pančevo route was built as two local lines: Vršac – Vladimirovac – Kovin in 1894, and Pančevo – Vladimirovac in 1896. (The dates are from a list in ‘100. godina željeznica Jugoslavije’, published 1949). Pančevo was for decades the terminus: the river was the frontier. The Danube bridge and the line Beograd – Pančevo only opened in 1935, under the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

Within Serbia, the Vršac line is numbered line 44. Although it carries international trains, it is essentially a single-track rural line.

Click to enlarge: The line around 1910, when Pančevo was a river port. The map is an Austro-Hungarian military map, with Hungarian and German place names. The 1935 line to Beograd is shown in red, the proposed new alignment toward Vršac in green.

Rail line from Pančevo toward Vršac

The Danube rail bridge at Beograd now connects to a cross-city tunnel, leading to the new central station, Beograd Centar. The bridge carries all rail traffic across the river, including the developing ‘S-Bahn’ system Beovoz. Widening the present bridge is impossible: there are road lanes on either side. A new rail bridge could be built adjoining the west road lanes, and the road approach reconstructed. The best solution is probably a new bridge location, with a new cross-city tunnel.

North of the Danube, the rest of the line to Pančevo can easily be 4-tracked. Pančevo (population 77 000), is 23 km from Beograd Centar. The “Main Station” is not well located, but it gives interchange with the proposed fast Zrenjanin line (currently Serbian line 40). Some trains could serve the older and better located “Town Station” (Pančevo Varoš).

Beyond Pančevo, the alignment toward Vršac is almost straight until the first village Banatsko Novo Selo (population 7000). From there, there is a winding alignment, past several villages. The solution is a new cut-off line, replacing the alignment through Alibunar. It would start at a new station in Banatsko Novo Selo, and rejoin the old alignment east of Nikolinci. It would cross higher ground, at the edge of the Deliblatska_Peščara dune ridges, but with easy gradients.

Click to enlarge: The line as built, from the Austro-Hungarian military map. The new alignment is shown in green.

Rail line from Pančevo toward Vršac

The new alignment can serve four of the five villages on the existing line. It would be logical to abandon the old alignment, provided the new line has sufficient capacity for regional services. At Vladimirovac (population 4000), Banatski Karlovac (population 6000), and Nikolinci (population 1200), the stations would be relocated.

From Uljma (population 3600) to Vršac, the line would use the existing alignment. Only an S-curve, where it crosses the Danube – Tisa -Danube Canal, needs to be replaced. The two villages here are probably too small to justify a station.

Vršac (population 37 000), is built on a hill at the edge of the plain. The line curves quite sharply into the station, but that is not a problem, if all trains stop there. This is the largest town between Pančevo and Timişoara, and it serves about 100 000 people. Vršac station would also be the junction with the cross-Danube rail line from Smederevo and Kovin. The station itself has more than enough room for extra traffic. The upgraded Pančevo – Vršac line would be 60-65 km long, depending on the length of the new section.

North of Vršac, the existing alignment is almost straight, and the terrain almost flat (85-95 m elevation). With realignment of a few curves, it can certainly be upgraded for 200 km/h. About 6 intermediate stations would be retained: the most important is Deta (population 6000).

Approaching Timişoara, the existing line (from Şag) has been rerouted along the outskirts of the city. It would be replaced by a new alignment, about 10 km long, shared with the proposed fast inter-regional line Zrenjanin – Timişoara.

Click to enlarge: the new line into Timişoara, starting near Şag

New line into Timişoara station

Timişoara station (Gara Timişoara Nord) is aligned east-west. With construction of the proposed HSL via Szeged and Kikinda, it would be on the main rail route from Budapest to Bucharest (as it was originally). Trains from Beograd would probably terminate at Timişoara. The original line entered the station from the east, allowing trains to continue north to Arad – but that alignment has been completely built over.

The Vršac – Timişoara line would be 75 km long. The total route Beograd – Timişoara would be about 160 km long. Heavy upgrading should allow a journey time of 60-70 minutes, with stops at Pančevo and Vršac.

Fast inter-regional line Beograd – Vršac – Timişoara

Cross-Danube rail line Smederevo – Kovin – Vršac

A new rail link across Danube, between Smederevo and Kovin, is a logical addition to the rail network east of Belgrade (Beograd). A new road bridge was built there, on the M-24 highway, opened in 1976. A parallel rail link is officially planned, although no date is given. It seems to be intended primarily as a freight bypass, and might bypass Smederevo itself. The proposal here is more extensive, and includes new passenger services. The website Donau-Info has a clear topographic map of the area covered by the proposal.

low-res link to donau-info.org

From Kovin, a new line would connect the new bridge or tunnel, to the existing line to Vršac and Timişoara. The proposal assumes heavy upgrading of the existing Belgrade – Vršac – Timişoara route. The new Danube crossing would carry an interregional service running east of Belgrade: Timişoara – Vršac – Smederevo – Kragujevac.

A second line from Kovin would connect the river crossing to Pančevo, creating a new orbital link north of Belgrade. This might be the fastest route to Smederovo: the present journey requires a reversal at Mala Krsna.

As with the road bridge, the new rail link would allow some traffic to bypass Belgrade. The rail junctions there are being fully renewed, with a new central station, but there is still only one Danube bridge. (A cross-river freight line is planned between Vinča and Starčevo, beside the planned ring motorway).

Click to enlarge: the new lines through Kovin superimposed on the original railway geography. The base map is an Austro-Hungarian military map of around 1910, with Hungarian and German place names.

Smederevo - Kovin rail link across Danube

When the first railways in this region were built, the Danube was the southern boundary of the Kingdom of Hungary. The Hungarian network was much better developed, and there were no Danube bridges. The bridge at Belgrade was only built in 1935, and the next one is at Ruse, almost 700 km downstream.

Inside the Kingdom of Hungary, the line south from Timişoara (Hungarian Temesvár) to Vršac (Versec) and Bela Crkva (Fehértemplom), formed the rail axis of the County of Temes.

Click to enlarge…

Temes County in the Kingdom of Hungary

The line continued to a river port on the Danube, at Baziaş – where its remains are still visible. At present, Bela Crkva is the terminus of a local line from Zrenjanin via Vršac (Serbian line 43). The line to the Danube is abandoned – Baziaş is now in Romania.

Smederevo (population 110 00) is an industrial city on the Danube, 50 km downstream from Belgrade. There is however, no rail line along the river bank. Instead, there is a 12-km branch, north from Mala Krsna station, on Serbian line 60 (main line to the south-east). It runs at the edge of the hills, just above the flood plain of the Morava river.

Click to enlarge…

Smederevo - Kovin rail link across Danube

It would be relatively easy, to build a rail line beside the M-24 bridge, but it would pass east of Smederevo. The existing rail line runs north from Mala Krsna, and bends west into a station with minimal platforms, opposite the fortress ruins. A tunnel would start further back, away from the city centre, so a bridge seems the best option. The bridge approach line could run between the river harbor and the old fortress, where there is enough room. This is almost a straight line from the existing alignment, and the station (on viaduct) would be close to the city centre.

Click to enlarge…

Smederevo - Kovin rail link across Danube

This option does mean a longer river crossing. The line would cross a low-lying island, and that probably means a long viaduct. The line would then turn north-east to Kovin: it should also allow for a possible line towards Omoljica. The Smederevo – Kovin section would be about 12 km long.

At Kovin (population 14 000, municipality 37 000), the line can use a former railway alignment beside the M-24, and the zone of the abandoned station. Beyond this station, the line would split.

The line to Vršac would turn more to the east after Kovin. It would follow the road toward Bela Crkva, passing the village of Gaj. The most difficult section is east of Dubrovac: the line must cross the dune ridges of the Deliblatska_Peščara.

Dune landscape of the Deliblatska Peščara, image by Sors bona, public domain…

Deliblatska Peščara

Fortunately the maximum dune heights are further north, so the line can cut the ridges and fill the valleys. (The line would be similar to the Amsterdam – Arnhem line between Ede and Arnhem, which also crosses an inland dune region).

After the dunes, the line would turn north, and join the existing alignment near Crvena Crkva, 25 km from Vršac. Much of the remaining line to Vršac is straight, but the curves north of Jasenovo would need a new alignment. At Vršac (population 37 000), the line would join the upgraded Belgrade – Timişoara route. The Kovin – Vršac section would be about 65 km long.

Click to enlarge…

new Kovin - Vršac rail line

East of the dunes, there would also an 8-km link link, via Vračev Gaj, to Bela Crkva (population 11 000). It lies in a basin on the flanks of the Banat Mountains (Munţii Banatului, part of the Carpathians). There was another rail line into what is now Romania, part survives as line 924, from Iam to Oraviţa. (Restoration would be possible, but the line was very indirect anyway).

The line from Kovin to Pančevo would be simpler, in planning and construction. Directly after Kovin station, it would turn north-west, and follow an old rail alignment to Bavanište. The only intermediate station would be at that village (population 6000). From there, the line would run parallel to the main road (still highway M-24), but south of it.

Click to enlarge…

New Kovin - Pančevo rail line….New Kovin - Pančevo rail line

Pančevo (population 77 000) is also an industrial city. The new line would join the existing alignment from the east, allowing it to serve the older ‘Pančevo Town’ station (still known by its Hungarian name ‘Pančevo Varoš’). At the newer Main Station, there would be interchange with an upgraded line to Zrenjanin (Serbian line 40).

The Kovin – Pančevo section would be 30 km long. From Pančevo, it is 23 km to the new central station in Belgrade, via the cross-city tunnel. The line would also connect to the proposed new Beovoz tunnel under central Belgrade.

Cross-Danube rail line Smederevo – Kovin – Vršac