Regional line Pančevo – Titel – Novi Sad

Novi Sad (population 250 000) is the capital of the Vojvodina region. It is connected to Zrenjanin, the region’s third city, Serbian rail lines 31 and 40. Passengers travelled indirectly via Titel and Orlovat: first north-west, then eastwards, and then back north-west to Zrenjanin. The route is de facto abandoned.

The railway bridge over the Tisa at Titel: image by Marek Ślusarczyk, CC 3.0 licence

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A new direct line via Žabalj was proposed here earlier. It would use a new eastern exit from Novi Sad station, shared for about 4 km with the proposed regional line Szeged – Bečej – Novi Sad.

That would also shorten the line to Titel. It could remain as a regional line, but it would be more effective to extend it toward the Belgrade region. The proposal here is to extend it south-east to Pančevo (population 77 000), rather than Belgrade itself. The reason is simply that the line would serve more people. The region directly north of Belgrade is largely empty. It is former marshland, the Pančevački Rit, lying between the Danube and the Tamiš River.

Click to enlarge: former marshes, from an Austro-Hungarian military map of 1897, with German and Hungarian place names.

Pancevacki Rit

The marsh was reclaimed for agriculture, and there is now some suburban development, but it is concentrated at the south end, within 5 km of Belgrade. More development is planned, but it would be more effectively served by the regional metro BG-Voz, or by a branch of the long-planned Belgrade Metro. The line proposed here is not a regional or urban metro. It is also not intended as a link between Novi Sad and Belgrade: there is already a direct line, and a parallel high-speed line was proposed here earlier. In any case, Pančevo itself would become a major interchange station, with the construction of the proposed northern bypass of Belgrade.

The most logical option is to extend a regional line, as a regional line. The new Titel – Pančevo section would be similar in function to the existing line Novi Sad – Titel, serving villages about 4 – 8 km apart. The new section runs parallel to the Tamiš River for about 35 km, and the villages lie on that river.

Titel - Pancevo line

Trains to Pančevo would use the proposed new north-eastern exit line from Novi Sad station. That is primarily intended for the new line to Zrenjanin, and it would follow the main road, crossing the DTD Canal. Trains would rejoin the existing Titel line near the village of Kać. The first 10 km of the route would therefore be on new alignment, avoiding the present detour north of Novi Sad. Trains would continue toward Titel on an upgraded and electrified line. (Electrification is not a precondition, but it is not worth building a new low-quality line).

Novi Sad north exit line

At Titel, trains would cross the Tisa River: via the new exit line, the bridge is 44 km from Novi Sad station. The new alignment to Pančevo would diverge from the existing line, about 2 km east of the Tisa bridge. It would run south-east to Čenta, pass south of that village, and then and east of Opovo.

The alignment would pass east of the smaller villages of Sefkerin and Glogonj, and then west of Jabuka. Here it would cross the river Tamiš into the Pančevački Rit. On the outskirts of Pančevo, it would join the existing line from Belgrade, which crosses the Tamiš again. There would be 42 km of new alignment between Titel and Pančevo, with five new stations at the named villages, which have about 3000 to 6000 inhabitants.

From the junction, it is another 2 km to the Main Station at Pančevo. Trains would enter the station from the west, so they could continue to the “Town Station” (Pančevo Varoš), closer to the city centre. At the Main Station, there would be interchange with the proposed northern bypass of Belgrade, and with InterCity and regional trains to Belgrade.

Jabuka - Pancevo

The new Novi Sad – Titel – Pančevo line would be 90 km long, with over half on new alignment. On the existing line to Titel it would have six intermediate stations, at Kać, Budisava, Šajkaš, Vilovo, Lok, and Titel (with Knićanin 7000 inhabitants). The total population served is about 30 000 on the line to Titel, and 20 000 from there to Pančevo. Given the proximity of the villages to Novi Sad and Pančevo, that would be sufficient to justify the line. Between Novi Sad and Titel, and from Čenta to Pančevo, the line would carry commuter traffic.

Near both cities, trains would share track with other services, so a pure light-rail service is not an option. On most of the line however, a simple single-track regional line is sufficient, so the proposed infrastructure is not excessive. It is appropriate for the Vojvodina, a flat agricultural region with large villages in linear patterns. The line should have two tracks at all stations, and if necessary some double-track sections, to allow 30-minute interval services in both directions. With 11 intermediate stations, modern light trains, and half the line on new alignment, journey time should be about about 90 minutes.

Regional line Pančevo – Titel – Novi Sad

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

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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