Reconstruction of the line is underway: see the update March 2020.
The city of Novi Sad has a strategic location: a north-south route from central Europe to the southern Balkans, crosses the Danube here. That makes the city a transport hub, but also a military target: the Danube bridges were bombed as recently as 1999, during the Kosovo War.
Bombed rail bridge: by Darko Dozet, CC3 licence…
The rail route from Vienna and Budapest to Belgrade (Beograd) is now being upgraded, although very slowly. This post looks at the options for a high-speed rail line (HSL) on this corridor. It would extend the high-speed line Budapest – Szekszárd – Novi Sad, proposed here earlier.
Novi Sad is a logical place for Danube bridge, because it is at the northern tip of the Fruška Gora mountain range. The range runs east-west, it is about 80 km long, and the Danube flows east-west to avoid it. The range has a ‘promontory’ on the northern side, and the Danube also bends around this promontory. At its northern tip is the fortress of Petrovaradin, and on the opposite bank is the city of Novi Sad.
Although this is the most favourable site for a north-south bridge, the Fruška Gora is an obstacle. In 1883 a railway was built from Budapest, via Novi Sad, to Belgrade. (Except for Belgrade, the line was inside the Austro-Hungarian Empire.) The railway crossed the Danube at the Petrovaradin fortress — in fact it ran in tunnel underneath it. To avoid the highest part of the Fruška Gora range, the railway then turned south-east along the Danube.
15 km east of Novi Sad, the Fruška Gora ridge is lower, and the railway line could cross it. From Petrovaradin it first follows the curving edge of the flood plain, then climbs up the flank of the ridge, and then passes through a short tunnel at Čortanovci. With many curves, this section has a 70-km speed limit. On the southern side of the ridge, the terrain slopes downward toward Belgrade, and construction of the rest of the line was easy. The old main road has a similar route — first southeast from Petrovaradin, and then over the ridge. The E75 motorway avoids Novi Sad, and crosses the Danube further east, where it can cross the Fruška Gora without a tunnel. On the rail route, high speed is only possible with new alignments and longer tunnels: this post considers the options.
Video: the whole line in 30 minutes …
There is another temporary obstacle: the reconstruction of the bombed Žeželj bridge has been delayed. Restoration of this bridge (Žeželjev Most) is a precondition for any upgrading of the Budapest – Belgrade rail route, but it is not enough. A high-speed line would require additional tracks across the Danube. The simplest solution is an extra rail bridge, at the same site.
Restoration of the original route under the Petrovaradin fortress is pointless. The old tunnel is still visible, but the main station was relocated when the Žeželj bridge was opened in 1961, and all its approach tracks were built over. The city now plans a road bridge on the old bridge pillars, and a new road tunnel under the fortress. The infrastructure proposed here would create a four-track route between Novi Sad and Belgrade. That is not excessive, since this is one of two main rail routes from Central Europe to the Balkans (the other is along the Sava Valley). A high-speed line must be reserved for high-speed trains, and the existing line should be double-tracked because of its strategic function — that is planned anyway.
New alignment: Danube and Fruška Gora
With restoration of the Žeželj bridge, there is a reasonable exit route from the main station, across the Danube to Petrovaradin. After that, the low quality of the 1883 line is soon apparent: it is single-track as far as Indjija. There is a sharp curve north of Petrovaradin station, which would slow high-speed trains leaving the Žeželj bridge. New fast tracks can avoid this, however, if a second Žeželj bridge is offset from the existing bridge, at a slight angle. New tracks would then use an easier curve into Petrovaradin station, which is itself on a straight section. Demolition of a few houses would be necessary, allowing the existing curve to be improved as well.
Click to enlarge…
South of Petrovaradin, the existing line winds along the edge of the flood plain to Sremski Karlovci. The simple solution is to replace it by a single curve, partly cut into the edge of the higher ground. That is not compatible with the existing alignment, so a new four-track section would replace it. This new 4-km alignment would end near Sremski Karlovci station, on a straight section, about 12 km from Novi Sad.
South of Sremski Karlovci, there is a sharp bend, and then more curves, as the line again follows the edge of the higher ground. In places it is directly on the Danube bank. A new 1500 m alignment through the flood plain, possibly on viaduct, would avoid the sharp curve. Further on, the curves would be improved, again by shifting the line inland in places, cutting into the higher ground. The last curve to be improved in this way is at Karlovački vinogradi station, just before a small river port / oil terminal.
Click to enlarge…
At the river port, the existing line starts to climb up the escarpment, toward the Čortanovci tunnel. This is the worst section of the line, and a new alignment would start at the port. There are three options here. The first is a 7-km tunnel to north of Beška, possibly with a new alignment around Beška itself. This would be a combination of a flank tunnel (parallel to the Danube) and a ridge tunnel to Beška. It would avoid Čortanovci, and if the existing line was also re-routed in this way, the village (population 2300) would lose its station.
The second option (shown in green) is a tunnel from the river port to the valley alongside Čortanovci station. It could be for fast trains only, but a tunnel with an easier gradient is better for freight trains. A four-track version is more logical, with a new station at Čortanovci. After the village there would be a second short tunnel, and a new 4-km alignment to Beška, with a new station there.
The longest option is a 15-km line for high-speed trains only, from the river port to Indjija. A 6-km tunnel would climb about 80 m, to relatively flat terrain behind the ridge, creating an almost straight alignment from Sremski Karlovci to Indjija. The existing line would be upgraded for all other traffic, possible with a new tunnel up to Čortanovci station. This option would avoid not only Čortanovci, but also Beška (population 6000).
In all options, there would be only three or four stations between Novi Sad and Indjija: Petrovaradin, Sremski Karlovci, Beška, and possibly Čortanovci. The town of Indjija is about 35 km from Novi Sad on the existing line, and a suitable terminus for urban-regional trains. (The new alignments will not substantially shorten the route, about 1 km at most). Indjija is 42 km from Belgrade, and is also the planned terminus of the regional metro Beovoz.
Indjija to Zemun
If high speed trains pass through Beška, three curves on the line to Indjija must be upgraded. The proposed alignment direct from the Danube bank to Indjija would avoid this problem. In any case, high-speed trains would use the existing alignment through Indjija: there is enough space for four tracks, but perhaps in cutting for environmental reasons.
South of Indjija, the existing alignment to Zemun is suitable for high speeds. It can either be reconstructed as a four-track line, comparable to the German Ausbaustrecken, or a separate HSL could be built alongside it. Where it passes housing, in Batajnica and Zemun, the line could be lowered into cutting. At Zemun, the line drops 15 m from a plateau, to the Danube flood plain. The original surface alignment was replaced by a tunnel, and a new line through suburban Novi Beograd. A second tunnel is needed, possibly starting at Zemun station, and extra tracks through Novi Beograd.
After Novi Beograd station, the line splits, to cross the Sava river. There is a single-track bridge into the old Main Station (Glavna Stanica), and a double-track bridge to the new, incomplete, Beograd Centar station. The single-track bridge needs a replacement, preferably on a better alignment: the version shown is indicative.
A new line through Zemun and Novi Beograd was proposed here earlier. Its purpose is to allow a new central station, on the site of the existing Glavna Stanica. That is not a precondition for a high-speed line from Novi Sad, but the Belgrade approach lines must certainly be upgraded. The incomplete Beograd Centar station is designed for through services, but that is more appropriate for regional and inter-regional trains. High-speed services from Vienna and Budapest should preferably terminate in Belgrade. The rail lines southwards have limited capacity: there is no double-track railway to Greece, Bulgaria or Turkey, let alone high-speed lines. Even if they were built, Belgrade is still the logical interchange point. The old main station can be expanded as an interchange station, and it adjoins the historic city centre.
The high-speed route from Novi Sad to Belgrade would be 76 km long. The high-speed tracks themselves would have no intermediate station, but a fast inter-regional service might leave them, to stop at Indjija. Very high speeds would be possible only on the central part of the high-speed line, from Beška to Zemun. The approaches to Belgrade’s main station might be difficult to improve, but journey time should nevertheless be close to 30 minutes.