Update: high-speed rail Novi Sad – Belgrade

Proposals for a high-speed line between Novi Sad and Belgrade were posted here several years ago, when official plans were still incomplete. By now, the project is nearing completion, so there is no point in proposing an alternative alignment. Most of it follows the old line anyway. The official project is less ambitious than proposed here, with lower capacity and speeds, but still a significant improvement by Serbian standards. The line was always intended as part of a longer Budapest – Belgrade route, and work has started on the rest of that route, slowly. The line in Belgrade itself still needs improvement, and the new central station is still unfinished, despite decades of work.

There are possible alternative routes between Budapest and Novi Sad, but not between Novi Sad and Belgrade. Both cities are located at strategic river crossings, and the geography determined the alignment of the railway line in 1883.

Novi Sad is located north 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. Exactly at its northern point is the fortress of Petrovaradin, and on the opposite bank is the modern city of Novi Sad. The line from Budapest crosses the Danube here.

Originally the line used the shortest river crossing, and ran under the fortress in tunnel. From there, a straight line to Belgrade would require an additional tunnel under the Fruška Gora range, so the line turned south-east, to run alongside the Danube. The Novi Sad station, and the Danube rail bridge, were later moved further east, so the line no longer needs ridge tunnels. The old line had another tunnel further south, at Čortanovci. There, the line turns away from the river, and climbs up to the plateau south of the Fruška Gora. From there, it is almost a straight line to Zemun, at the edge of the Belgrade agglomeration.

The climb from the Danube at Čortanovci was the worst section of the old line, and it has been completely replaced, by a new viaduct/tunnel combination. The bridge at Novi Sad (Žeželjev Most) had been replaced earlier, after NATO bombing in 1999. South of Čortanovci, no major work was needed – just track renewal, and realignment of some curves. However, the most that Serbia can afford was a mixed-traffic double-track railway, designed for 200 km/h, at least on the middle section. The capacity is insufficient for true demand at a European level, and in some parts of Europe new high-speed lines are faster – 300 km/h.

The most significant realignment on the new line is through the Čortanovci tunnel, and on to Beška. The two images below show the variants proposed here earlier, and the line as built.

The earlier post also proposed a new tunnel from Zemun into western Belgrade (Novi Beograd). The line drops 15 m here, from the plateau to the Danube/Sava flood plains, and technically, a new tunnel is no problem, so it can be added later. However, the earlier proposal also assumed, that the HSL would terminate near the old Belgrade central station. That station has now been closed, and the site cleared for redevelopment. The only option is the badly-designed new central station at Prokop, Beograd Centar. It was planned decades ago, for internal Yugoslav train services, not for European high-speed networks.

In theory, Belgrade is the logical interchange station, between Central Europe and the Balkan Peninsula. That is irrelevant at present, because services south of Belgrade are so bad – infrequent trains, on low-speed single-track lines. A first step is the upgrading of the Belgrade to Niš line for 200 km/h, which is at the planning stage. But even if there were high-speed lines to Belgrade from all directions, Beograd Centar in its present form would be inadequate. That is a good reason to consider new bypass lines, such as this northern bypass proposed here earlier, from Batajnica to Smederevo.

That would not, however, solve the problem for trains into Belgrade itself. The approach lines to Beograd Centar are of low quality, and shared with local and regional services. There is no space to reverse trains, or store and service them, even for short periods. It might be possible to build additional terminal platforms on the north side of the station. That would also require extra approach tracks, including an additional bridge over the Sava.

And in theory, the low-grade lines into Beograd Centar could all be replaced. The existing tunnels could be duplicated, with additional fast tracks, and the older tunnels reserved for urban and regional services. Similarly, the bridge over Sava could be duplicated, and the life-expired Danube bridge replaced, by a new four-track version. The remaining surface approaches, inside the urban area, could be four-tracked – with some limited demolition. However, even with 100% adequate approach tracks, Beograd Centar would still be badly located, and have insufficient capacity.

Update: high-speed rail Novi Sad – Belgrade

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