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.)

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Eastern rail exit from Belgrade

High-speed rail line Novi Sad – Belgrade

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

New central station in Belgrade

This was first posted in 2010. Since then, several new proposals have been posted here, with possible alternatives. See the overview post on Belgrade as a European rail junction, especially the proposed northern and eastern bypass lines. The rest of this post has been left in its original form.

The present Main Station (Glavna Stanica) in Belgrade (Beograd), is a terminal station. As part of the Belgrade Junction Project, a new ‘central’ station Beograd Centar is planned. Despite the name, it is well south of the city centre, at Prokop. The proposed new tunnel and Danube bridge would convert Glavna Stanica into a through station.

That leads to a simple option: the best place for a new central station in Belgrade, is the old central station. The Prokop station provides through platforms, for west to south-east trains. That can also be done with new platforms at Glavna Stanica, above the existing platforms, at right angles to them. That requires a new line from the west (Zemun), a new Sava bridge, and a new tunnel to connect to the existing Dedinje tunnel.

Click to enlarge: proposed line through Novi Beograd shown in orange, earlier proposed north-south line and Topčider tunnel in blue.

New rail line and central station in Belgrade / Beograd

This option is inspired by the Stuttgart 21 project, which will ‘rotate’ Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof by 90 degrees, converting it into a through station. In Stuttgart, the existing platforms will disappear: in Belgrade they would be retained, creating a station in the form of a cross. The historical station building can be retained.

The station at Prokop would be relegated to urban-regional status. It is still not complete anyway, 34 years after construction started. It would be served by Beovoz trains from the Vračar Tunnel, as it is now. The Dedinje tunnel, the planned approach to Prokop from the south-east, would become the exit tunnel from the new platforms at Glavna Stanica. Nothing would be wasted.

The rail line into Belgrade from the west passes through Zemun. The original Austro-Hungarian line was relocated in the 1950’s, and the present Zemun station is on a plateau, above the old riverbank town. The new line to Glavna Stanica would parallel the existing line, east of this station. It too would descend about 30-35 m, in tunnel, from the plateau.

In Novi Beograd, the line would run on viaduct above Pariske Komune / Mihajla Pupina. The streets here are exceptionally wide. There would be no intermediate station on the new line: it is intended for long-distance trains, including high-speed trains. If they did stop, it would be at Zemun, which has 145 000 inhabitants. Passengers could change there, for Beovoz services. In addition, a long-planned metro line would run downhill from the station, through the old town of Zemun, and on through Novi Beograd.

In Novi Beograd, at the end of Mihajla Pupina, the road curves toward the new Sava road bridge. The new rail line would go straight on here, passing between Block 20 and Block 17. It would rise to a new rail bridge, just south of the old Sava road bridge. On the other side of the Sava, the station zone begins directly behind the river bank.

The site of the new alignment and platforms is visible, on this panorama image. The arched bridge is the old Sava road bridge. The new line would exit the station zone near the postal building (with the yellow vans).

Click to enlarge: the large station zone, with one possible alignment for new east-west platforms in white/blue, through platforms for north-south tunnel in orange. Indicative only.

New central station in Belgrade at old central station

The exact alignment of the platforms depends on the tunnel east of the station. The ground rises here, but not enough for a tunnel to simply ‘enter the hill’. Substantial demolition would be necessary, between the elevated platforms and the tunnel portal. The start of the tunnel would approximately follow Ulica Birčaninova.

The tunnel would then turn 90 degrees, in a curve of about 1000-1200 m radius, climbing about 20 m. It would emerge from the hill beside the existing portal of the Vračar Tunnel. The line would then cross the motorway, which is in a valley, and the existing curves from the Vračar Tunnel into Beograd Centar. Demolition of the Veterinary Faculty here, is probably unavoidable.

Click to enlarge: Connecting the Dedinje tunnel portal to Glavna Stanica, the alignments are indicative only.

Part of new rail line through Belgrade

On the other side of this valley, the new line would enter the existing Dedinje tunnel. The portal might need reconstruction, to align with the new bridge across the motorway. The rest of the tunnel can be used as planned: it joins the main line out of Belgrade, north of Rakovica Station.

All trains to the south and south-east pass through Rakovica. All trains from the west and north-west pass through Zemun. They can all run through Beograd Centar – when it is finished. The proposal here has exactly the same function. However, it substitutes a far better station site: next to the city centre, and already served by tram and bus lines. The proposed second north-south tunnel would also link it directly to the north. This is probably the best possible option for the lines through Belgrade – short of an underground main station, under the main square Trg Republike.

New central station in Belgrade

New tunnels and Danube bridge in Belgrade

A new tunnel under central Belgrade, and a new Danube bridge, would provide capacity for the proposed new lines around the city. With a population of 1.6 million, Beograd (Belgrade) is a major destination, and also a strategic rail junction between Central Europe and South-Eastern Europe / Turkey.

The proposed new lines include a line from Kovin via Pančevo, an upgraded Belgrade – Vršac – Timişoara route, a new high-speed line (HSL) from Budapest, a HSL from Zagreb parallel to the existing main line, a HSL from Pécs via Osijek, a second HSL route from Vienna and Budapest via Szekszárd, a third HSL route from Vienna via Nagykanisza, and a second HSL via Novi Sad.

Despite Belgrade’s strategic location, the rail infrastructure is of poor quality. The historical explanation is the city’s frontier location. In the 19th century Belgrade was part of the Ottoman Empire, in an increasingly autonomous Serbian principality. The later Kingdom of Serbia (from 1882) also stopped at Belgrade. On the other side of the Sava and Danube, was the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was economically more developed.

Click to enlarge: The original rail geography, around 1910. The rivers were international boundaries, Zemun was an Austro-Hungarian frontier town, and the north bank of the Danube was marshland. The base map is an Austro-Hungarian military map of around 1910, with Hungarian and German place names.

Old map of Belgrade (Beograd) with rail lines

The main line from Budapest was built in 1880-1883, to Zemun. In 1884, it was extended across the Sava into a terminal station in Belgrade itself. In the same year, a line was opened south from Belgrade station to Niš. This became the main line to Sofia, Athens, and Istanbul: all other lines to the south and south-east diverge from it.

All traffic from the west and north-west – from northern Italy, München, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Budapest – passes through Novi Beograd station and crosses the Sava, into the main station. Traffic to the south and south-east exits Belgrade, through Rakovica station on the line to Niš. This was, and is, the main traffic flow. Through trains on this axis must reverse at the Main Station. The line north across the Danube (Pančevo bridge) was not built until 1935: it has a tortuous connection to the main station, via the river port. (The bridge was blown up twice, and the present rail bridge is a temporary version built by the Red Army in 1945).

A new route through Belgrade has been planned for decades: the Belgrade Junction Project. It includes a new central station ‘Beograd Centar’, also known as Prokop (from its location). Like the older station, is also accessible from the west, across the Sava. Unlike the old station, trains would reach the south-eastern lines without reversal, via the new Dedinje tunnel. Beograd Centar is also connected, via the new Vračar Tunnel, to the Danube rail bridge.

Video on new station project: commentary in Serbian, many maps and diagrams.

The new rail layout has ‘design faults’ which limit its utility. However, that is not yet relevant, because the new station is still under construction – since 1977. (Two decades of war, international isolation, and economic stagnation, did not help). See the Beobuild Forum Prokop thread for many images and construction updates.

The only fully operational part of the project is the Beovoz line from north to west, through the two completed platforms at Prokop. Beovoz is an urban-regional train network, in and around Belgrade. It is modeled on the German S-Bahn, but it has a long way to go. Services are irregular and infrequent, and the trains are decrepit. Beovoz is planned to connect to a future Belgrade metro, or alternatively a light metro, but that is even further away.

Video: decrepit Beovoz train, at decrepit Novi Beograd Station…

The new central station does not alter the main traffic flow: it merely duplicates the route through Belgrade, between Novi Beograd and Rakovica. It eliminates train reversal, but at a price: Beograd Centar is further from the city centre, on the other side of a motorway.

The proposal here starts from these premises:

  • European-level services will terminate in Belgrade: transit passengers will change trains. “Orient-Express” style trains, running more than 1500 km, are obsolete. Belgrade is the most logical terminus for such long-distance services, in south-eastern Europe.
  • interregional services (running 150-500 km) will pass through Belgrade, and do need a through station
  • urban-regional services (Beovoz) should have separate tracks, for instance across the Sava
  • the old main station (Glavna Stanica) should be retained: unlike Beograd Centar, it directly adjoins the city centre
  • the Vračar Tunnel is only suitable for Beovoz services, because of its three intermediate stations.

The main proposal here, is a tunnel north from the Main Station / Glavna Stanica. The new through platforms would be parallel to the existing main platforms, and possibly 5-10 m lower. That in itself requires major reconstruction: the station area is liable to flooding.

The tunnel would pass under the Old City, and then cross the Danube, toward Pančevo. The Old City is on a hill, 50 m higher than the station, which simplifies tunnel construction. The tunnel would be about 2100-2300 m long. Demolition is inevitable around its northern portal, where some alignments might cross the river port zone (major redevelopment is planned). The Danube bridge would be about 1300-1400 m long. On the north bank the line would turn north-east, to join the existing Pančevo line, which would be 4-tracked.

Click to enlarge: Three possible alignments. The white route is shortest, but requires a 1600 m bridge diagonally over the Danube, and a viaduct through the port zone. The red and blue variants are aligned with the street pattern on the south bank. The red variant is clear of other possible tunnels around Trg Republike.

New tunnel from main station in Belgrade, and new Danube bridge

This proposed tunnel under the city centre would have no stations: it is intended for long-distance traffic. Instead a second tunnel under the city centre would form part of an urban-region network, an upgraded version of Beovoz.

There are two possible alignments for the second tunnel. From Glavna Stanica, it could curve slowly east toward the Pančevo bridge station. A similar alignment was officially planned as a second regional metro line to Pančevo. Extension east of the Pančevo bridge is not considered here.

This variant (shown in red) would allow interchange with north-south trains, but there is no track connection with the Vračar Tunnel. The new tunnel would pass the port zone, and the line might even use the existing Dunav Station alignment. It would have three stations: near the central square Trg Republike, under the existing Pančevo bridge station, and one intermediate station near the river port zone. The tunnel section would be about 2500 m long.

Click to enlarge: Two indicative alignments, for a Beovoz line north from Glavna Stanica.

Alternative Beovoz tunnels under Old City in Belgrade (Beograd)

With an S-curve alignment, the second tunnel under the centre could connect directly to the Pančevo bridge. In that case, it would probably have two stations: one near Trg Republike, and one somewhere near Ulica Cvijičeva. It would have an underground junction with the existing Vračar Tunnel, and trains would use the existing Pančevo bridge station. In this variant it would be about 3500 m long. With tighter curves, the line could conform more closely to the street pattern, but trains would be slower.

Both variants are accessible from all lines into Glavna Stanica: either from the west (Zemun / Novi Beograd), or from the south-east. To improve service from the south-east, a new Topčider tunnel is also needed, replacing the existing curve around a hill. It would start near the E75 motorway bridge over the rail yards, and end about 400 m from Topčider station.

Click to enlarge: Topčider tunnel replacing the line around the hill…

New Topčider tunnel in Belgrade / Beograd

The proposals here assume that Beograd Centar will be completed, but with an altered function. Beovoz trains from Novi Beograd toward Pančevo, via the existing Vračar Tunnel, would still pass Beograd Centar, as at present. Beograd Centar would also be used by inter-regional services, from Slavonia and the Bačka region, on toward the south-east via Dedinje tunnel. (For optimal use of the station, it should have a 4-track access across the Sava).

Beograd Center would not however become an international through station, and would not be the main station for inter-regional travel. Passengers to/from the urban region will probably change trains at Novi Beograd, rather than Beograd Centar. The Prokop station will always be somewhat dysfunctional: no new lines can correct its bad location. An alternative is therefore abandonment of the Prokop location, and a completely new central station project.

New tunnels and Danube bridge in Belgrade

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