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

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

038_Titel,_Knicanin,_Tisa,_Danube_-_Serbia

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

Upgraded route Kikinda – Zrenjanin – Pančevo

The railway network in northern Serbia and Hungary was cut in many places after the First World War, when the Treaty of Trianon divided the then Kingdom of Hungary. The city of Kikinda was originally on an important Hungarian railway line, from Budapest to Timişoara via Szeged. It was one of the earliest lines in the region, built in 1857. A branch line was built from Kikinda to Zrenjanin in 1883, and extended to Pančevo in 1894. These were extensions of the Hungarian core network, and the line ended at the Danube: Pančevo was a Hungarian river port. On the other side was the Kingdom of Serbia, but there was no bridge.

Click to enlarge: Torontál County around 1900…

Torontal_county_map

With ‘Trianon’, the region became part of Serbia, then Yugoslavia, and now Serbia again. Only in 1935 was Pančevo connected to Belgrade, on the other side of the Danube. So what looks like an internal Serbian line, from Belgrade north through the Vojvodina region, was never designed for that purpose. It is numbered as Serbian line 40, but the Kikinda – Zrenjanin section is in bad condition, with speed restricted to 30 km/h. This post looks at restructuring and upgrading as a new north-south route to Belgrade, extending a new high-speed route from Budapest to Serbia via Szeged. At present, there is no northern route into Belgrade from Szeged, across the Banat region.

Click to enlarge: Modern Banat by Andrei nacu, public domain.

Modern Banat

Upgrading the route

Proposed here is a new double-track electrified rail line, generally on existing alignment, from Kikinda to Zrenjanin. The restored route from Szeged to Kikinda, with a new bridge over the Tisa / Tisza river, is not considered here. It was built as part of a main railway line from Budapest to Timişoara, and the proposed high-speed line would have the same function. Instead of a Tisza bridge inside Szeged, the high-speed line (HSL) would cross the river on the western side of the city, serving a new station on the main Subotica road.

Szeged - Timisoara

Kikinda (population 38 000) would be an intermediate stop on that route. The station is on the eastern side of the town, and the single-track line to Zrenjanin diverges from the Timişoara line, about 500 m south of the station. The line first runs south-west to Novi Bečej, and then turns at right angles, running south-east to Zrenjanin, making it 68 km long. It would be possible to shorten it, with a 20 km cut-off line at Melenci, but that is not worth the trouble.

Kikinda - Zrenjanin railway

Improving the line Kikinda – Novi Bečej is a logical compliment to the proposed new link to Bečej across the Tisa river. Bečej is the largest town between Kikinda and Novi Sad, and a logical terminus and interchange for regional trains. It is also on the proposed regional line Szeged – Bečej – Novi Sad along the River Tisa. With the new river link, regional services can run from Kikinda to Bečej, from Bečej to Zrenjanin, and from Bečej to Vrbas (currently abandoned), as well as north-south along the Tisa line.

The line from Kikinda to Zrenjanin consists of straight sections linked by sharp curves – typical of 19th-century railways across plains. All can be improved with new curves, each with about 1500 m of new track. The stations at Melenci and Elemir would be shifted onto these new curves. Novi Bečej station can stay where it is, but the approaches would be improved with about 4 km of new alignment. (If all trains stop here, then only minor curve improvement is needed).

Novi Becej

Zrenjanin (population 123 000) is 68 km from Kikinda. Trains would connect here to the proposed Novi Sad – Zrenjanin fast line and its extension to Timişoara. The station lies west of the city centre.

The upgrading of the line to Pančevo was proposed here earlier, with several new cut-off sections to straighten the route, and raise line speed to 200 km/h. One cut-off would simply connect southern Zrenjanin to Lukićevo, avoiding a right-angle turn. That option (orange on the map) uses the existing line through Zrenjanin, which has a sharp bend to the Begej River bridge. Another option is to cross the river further south, and then turn toward Lukićevo (shown in teal). A longer variant is also possible (light green), passing the village of Ecka and continuing alongside the road to Orlovat.

Zrenjanin - Orlovat

Upgrading would require new curves at Orlovat and Uzdin, with a relocated station at Orlovat. The existing line winds around these villages, to cross the Tamiš River marshes at right angles. A bypass for through trains could pass between the villages, but would require a viaduct through the marshes, and about 10 km of new line. South of Uzdin, the old line is almost straight, as far as Crepaja. From there, a new cut-off line would run to the edge of Pančevo: the existing line through Kačarevo would be abandoned.

Zrenjanin Pancevo

The new sections (in blue on the map) would shorten the line by about 3-4 km, to about 70 km, and journey time Zrenjanin – Pančevo would be 30 minutes for fast trains.

The line enters the main station at Pančevo (population 76 000) from the east. There is also a connection to the more central “Town Station” (Pančevo Varoš). However, the main station would have interchange with trains on the proposed northern bypass of Belgrade.

Northern bypass…

Beograd north bypass

From the main Pančevo station, trains would continue to Belgrade on an upgraded line (at present most of it is single-track). The line needs four tracks, for its proposed function as a major exit line from Belgrade. Via the existing Vračar tunnel, Pančevo is 23 km from Beograd Centar, the incomplete central station at Prokop. It would be somewhat closer to the old main station (Glavna Stanica), via the proposed second Danube rail bridge, and curved access tunnel.

Danube curve tunnel

The whole route would be about 160 to 163 km long, depending on the new bypass and cut-off sections. Total journey time Kikinda – Belgrade would be just under 80 minutes, for fast trains with two or three stops. That is an average of 120 km/h, which is not unreasonable, even if the Kikinda – Zrenjanin section has a line speed of 150 km/h.

The pattern of services would probably not include through Budapest – Kikinda – Belgrade trains. A more logical option is that all high-speed trains to Timişoara stop at Kikinda, and that passengers transfer to a Szeged – Kikinda – Zrenjanin – Belgrade service. That service could start at an upgraded Ujszeged station, on the south bank of the Tisza in Szeged, across the river from the city centre. In other words, it would run entirely south of the Tisza, inside the Banat region, except for the approach to the terminus in Belgrade.

Upgraded route Kikinda – Zrenjanin – Pančevo