This is an updated proposal, first published in 2009, for a new rail line between Podgorica in Montenegro, and Shkodër in Albania. It would connect with the proposed new line Tiranë – Shkodër. Both would be built for high speeds, creating a fast route from Tiranë to Podgorica. There it would join the existing Belgrade – Bar line, which links the Danube basin to the Adriatic. As with all other posts here, the borders are ignored.
Podgorica and Shkodër are both located on the plains around Lake Skadar (Lake Scutari, Lake Shkodër, Lake Shkodra). Between the two cities is the Hotit arm of the lake (Humsko Blato, Hotski Zaliv). It is aligned to the north-east, with two parallel ridges alongside it. The existing rail line runs around this inlet, the proposed new line would cross it. The original version suggested a long bridge approached in tunnel, but that is unnecessary. The new line can simply cross the shallow inlet on viaduct, it is only a few metres deep. That alignment would be further south, and in fact is is the shortest between the two cities.
The region in 1904: Austro-Hungarian map from ELTE…
Click to enlarge: lake panorama by Toma Koma under CC BY-SA 2.0 licence …
The existing Podgorica – Shkodër railway, 64 km long, opened in 1986, as a freight link to the Yugoslav rail network. It was out of service for years due to war, sabotage, and disorder, and is only partially restored.
Podgorica had a population of 204,877 at the 2011 census. Most of the city was built after the Second World War. The municipality contains 10% of Montenegro’s territory, but 30% of its population. The main line through the city is the 476-km Belgrade – Bar railway, Serbia’s access to the sea. Podgorica station is about 1500 m from the central square: it is relatively large, with room for expansion.
The Shkodër line originally ran straight from Podgorica station towards Tuzi, but the junction was relocated further south. After Tuzi, the line climbs up the side of a ridge, and through a short tunnel, to run along the shore of the inlet. At the head of the inlet, the line makes a U-turn, and runs south through the plain. Approaching Koplik, it turns again, and runs parallel to the lake shore, into Shkodër. The station is on the east side of the city, close to the river Kir. Shkodër has a population of 136 000. The station is disused, awaiting restoration of the line from Durrës and Tirana.
The new line does not need to cross the ridge near Tuzi, so it can diverge from the Bar line further south. It would simply cross the plain, running south of Tuzi. There would be no stations: the existing line would be electrified, for freight and limited local services. (There are only two settlements large enough to justify a station: Tuzi and Koplik.) The new line could take the most direct route towards Koplik, with a long viaduct across the marshes and lake. Depending on the geology, it might be better to locate the crossing at the tip of the ridges. In that case, the alignment would be closer to the existing line.
About 3-5 km north of Koplik, the new line would join the existing line, and approximately follow it across the plain for about 23 km into Shkodër. Approximately, because urban sprawl has obstructed the alignment. The line near Koplik was built alongside the main road, when Albania had almost no cars, and the line carried almost no trains anyway. Now it crosses numerous access roads for new houses. If there is no better alignment, a viaduct is the obvious solution. In Shkodër itself, there is barely enough space left for a single track: the alignment must be cleared by demolition.
Spot the railway: on the outskirts of Shkodër…
There is a sharp curve 4 km north of Shkodër station, which must be replaced by a new alignment. Apart from that, clearing the alignment will create sufficient space for upgrading. The railway is very close to the Kir river, and there is only a single line of houses on the eastern side. The station itself is well located, about 1500m from the city centre.
The new line would be 50 km long, in the shortest variant. Longer alignments would be up to 55 km long. With an entirely new line, that should allow a Podgorica – Shkodër journey time of 20 minutes. Journey time Podgorica – Tiranë, with one stop in Shkodër, should be around 65 minutes. That would be a dramatic improvement for inter-regional travel, but maximum impact of the HSL route Podgorica – Tiranë depends on further HSL connections, to the north and to the south-west.
The Belgrade – Bar line was a major project of the former Yugoslavia, but it was built for freight, and speeds were never high. After 20 years of war and neglect, it is no longer viable as a European passenger axis. A new parallel HSL would be a very difficult project, but it is a logical link to the rest of Europe, and there is no alternative route within 100 km. If this ‘trans-Montenegrin’ HSL was built, the line proposed here would complete the HSL route, from the Danube to Tiranë.
South of Tiranë, the a new rail line across the mountains near Krrabë, would dramatically shorten the route to Elbasan. That could form the start of a new high-speed line east to Thessaloniki, and possibly south-east to Athens. As with the Podgorica – Belgrade line, this crosses the main mountain axis of the Balkans, and it would be a very difficult project.