Update: Novi Sad – Belgrade rail line

A new high-speed rail line from Novi Sad to Belgrade was proposed here in 2015. The two cites are about 80 km apart. This line forms part of the planned high-speed rail route from Budapest to Belgrade (Beograd).

The existing line was built in 1883. It has a bottleneck south of Novi Sad: a curving single-track section through Čortanovci. From the banks of the Danube, this section climbs the flank of the Fruška Gora mountain range, to more level grond at Beška. This section, in fact the line as far as Indija, has now been closed for a complete reconstruction (Indija is half-way between the two cities). The reconstruction includes a new Žeželj bridge (Žeželjev Most) at Novi Sad – the old one was bombed in 1999 during the Kosovo War.

Map: the Danube flowing along the flank of the Fruška Gora range, south-east of Novi Sad.

The earlier post here suggested complete re-alignment south of the Žeželj bridge, and three options for a four-track line passing Čortanovci:

    • a 7-km tunnel to north of Beška,
    • a tunnel to the valley alongside Čortanovci station with a new alignment to Beška,
    • or a separate 15-km high-speed line, from the Danube riverbank to Indjija.

The current project includes a less comprehensive re-alignment south of the Žeželj bridge, followed by a combination of viaduct and tunnel, to climb from the Danube bank. It is a substantial upgrading of the line, but Serbia does not have the resources to build a four-track line, even on this major European corridor. The present level of services would not justify four tracks here, anyway. South of Indija, the main line from Zagreb joins the route, and this section will have capacity problems, as service levels increase, and with S-Bahn type services from Indija to Belgrade.

There are also structural capacity issues in Belgrade itself: the old main station has now been closed, and all trains use the new main station at Prokop, Beograd Centar. This station is badly sited, with insufficient capacity on the approach lines. There are only two tracks across the Sava, and two tracks across the Danube, and the tunnel to the Pancevo bridge has three intermediate stations. The design flaws have historic origins. The new Beograd Centar station was planned when the city was the capital of Yugoslavia, and it would have been adequate for internal Yugoslavian services. In European perspective, however, it is not logical to extend high-speed trains from Vienna and Budapest, over the low-quality routes to the south and south-east. Belgrade is more logically an interchange point.

In other words, Belgrade has the wrong type of main station – and it is now too late, to expand or re-use old main station. (The site is under development). There is no easy fix here, but one option is to construct bypass lines, staring with a northern bypass Batajnica – Pančevo – Smederovo.

This bypass line, and other options, were considered here earlier: Belgrade as a European rail junction. That post assumed that the old main station could still be used, which is no longer feasible, but the other proposals are still logical. Even with a bypass, some extra capacity is needed into Beograd Centar, primarily for the new S-Bahn services (BeoVoz). An alternative would be construction of a basic metro system, so that the west-to-north tracks (over the Sava and Danube) could be reserved for non-local traffic.

For the short term, after the reconstruction of the line south of Novi Sad, trains from Budapest can simply terminate at Beograd Centar. Platform capacity is enough for the short term, but it might be possible to add one or two train reversal tracks, in tunnel just east of the station.

Update: Novi Sad – Belgrade rail line

Eastern rail exit from Belgrade

The previous post on Belgrade as a European rail junction noted the poor quality of the railway lines south of the city. That has geographical and historical origins: mountainous terrain, and the historical isolation of the Ottoman territories in south-eastern Europe. Belgrade (Beograd) was a fortress city, built for defence, not transport. There are broad rivers to the north, and hills to the south. The three railways southwards follow winding valleys through these hills.

These hills can be avoided by a new exit line east of Belgrade, to Smederevo. From there, it can turn south along the broad valley of the Velika Morava. There is no historical precedent for this route – not surprising, since it must cross the Danube twice. The previous post did propose a northern bypass of Belgrade, running from Batajnica via Pančevo to Smederevo. Although it is intended as a bypass, it would also create a north-eastern exit from Belgrade: trains could use the existing line to Pančevo, and then the bypass to Smederevo.

Click to enlarge: Northern bypass…

Beograd north bypass

The eastern exit line proposed here, is a shorter version of that route — about 45 km long. The two projects are compatible, but the eastern exit line would allow construction of a new central station on the Danube bank, within Belgrade itself. That was not foreseen in the earlier proposals.

The new line would run north from the old main station, and turn east parallel to the Danube. East of Karaburma it would enter a long tunnel, emerging directly onto a Danube bridge. On the opposite bank it would cross flat open farmland to a new Smederevo bridge. Via an upgraded line through Smederevo, it would reach the existing junction at Mala Krsna, in the Morava Valley.

Components of the route

The proposal requires a reconstruction of the old main Station (Glavna Stanica), with underground through platforms. Reconstruction was proposed here earlier, but the earlier proposals are not consistent with an eastern exit line.

From the new platforms, trains would enter a curved tunnel under the historic city, about 2500 m long. It would emerge at the existing Beograd-Dunav station, or close to it. The line would then continue eastwards, passing under the approaches to the existing Pančevo bridge.

That would allow construction of a new station, aligned east-west, just south of the existing Pančevački most station. The station would have interchange with the regional metro BG-Voz, and regional services (Beovoz). The area is still suitable for major redevelopment, although less so as the Danube waterfront is redeveloped. The platforms of the new station will be at right angles to the line from the Pančevo bridge, as it enters the Vračar tunnel. They would probably be at a lower level, since a viaduct would conflict with the bridge approach roads.

East of this station, the line would continue to Karaburma. A connection from the Vračar tunnel toward Karaburma is already planned, and that would allow through services to the new eastern exit. This area is relatively undeveloped, although that too will inevitably change.

Click to enlarge…

Karaburma-Danube tunnel

The line would then enter a tunnel, about 7-8 km long, under the ridge south of Visnjica. The exact alignment depends on local circumstances, but the shortest variant would pass under the village of Slanci. The line would emerge from tunnel south of Veliko Selo, and cross the Danube and floodplain, on a combination of viaduct and bridge.

On the opposite bank, the line would pass between Starčevo and Omoljica, and then turn to a new Danube bridge at Smederevo. That bridge was proposed here earlier as part of a Smederevo – Kovin – Vršac line, which could also function as an eastern bypass of Belgrade.

Click to enlarge…

Starcevo line

The alignment of the proposed rail bridge at Smederevo is constrained by the historic riverside fort, and it can not cross the river at right angles. A bridge further east would not have that problem, but then the new Smederevo station would on the wrong side of an industrial area. In any case the new line can turn as it approaches the bridge: turning on viaduct, because it must cross an old Danube channel and a low-lying island.

The line to the Smederevo bridge could certainly be combined with the proposed northern bypass. In that case, it would probably run north of Starčevo, as shown on the diagram below. It would join the Pančevo – Smederevo line east of that village. The tunnel from Karaburma would be somewhat shorter, and the viaduct across the floodplain longer.

Starcevo combination

The floodplain here is a nature reserve, but if that is a problem, the line can also run further south, and joining the Pančevo – Smederevo line further east. In fact, it could pass south of Omoljica, but that is only marginally shorter, and it is better to allow for some form of shared alignment with the northern bypass, and also for a shared link toward Kovin.

The new line would be 44 km long, and journey time about 20 minutes. The variant alignments around Starčevo will not substantially change that. The line would be purely for through traffic: the only intermediate stop is the proposed transfer station at the Pančevo bridge. (For the villages on the northern bank, a more appropriate infrastructure is a local line from Pančevo to Kovin.)

Eastern rail exit from Belgrade

High-speed rail line Novi Sad – Belgrade

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

Жежељев_мост_свакодневно_су_погађале_ракете_типа_Томахавк

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.

NS-Beograd overview

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…

New Danube bridge

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.

Karlovci

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…

Sremski Karlovci south

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.

beska

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).

Indjija HSL

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.

Novi Beograd

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.

High-speed rail line Novi Sad – Belgrade

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