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

Sombor – Osijek inter-regional line

This an alternative to the earlier proposal for a Sombor – Vinkovci inter-regional line. By constructing a new line across the Danube at Apatin, the route can serve both Osijek and Vinkovci, avoiding an extra interchange.

The earlier proposal: high-speed lines in blue, inter-regional lines in dark green, regional lines in light green, Sombor – Vinkovci options in red. Not all lines are shown.

Sombor - Vinkovci line options

This direct Sombor – Osijek variant requires a new rail line across the Kopački rit nature reserve, on the Danube floodplain. It does not require an extra crossing of the Danube, however, and the alignment is simpler and shorter. If the impact on the terrain can be minimised, then this direct alignment seems preferable. In practice, that would mean a long section on viaduct, comparable to some sections of high-speed line (HSL) in China.

Function

The line is intended as part of an inter-regional route from Szeged. Between Subotica and Szeged, trains would use the proposed high-speed line Baja – Subotica – Szeged. Sombor would be linked to Subotica by an upgraded 60-km line. These two are aligned north-east to south-west, and it is logical to extend the route to either Osijek, Vinkovci, or Vukovar.

SzSuSAO

There is an existing line, through Dalj, but it is indirect. The earlier proposal for a Sombor – Vinkovci line would have shortened the route, but does not serve Osijek. In geographical terms the most logical alignment is certainly Szeged – Subotica – Sombor – Osijek, since they are almost in a straight line. This also has the advantage of sharing the proposed high-speed line into Osijek from the North, HSL Pécs – Osijek – Vinkovci, which might use a new tunnel under the Drava.

Sombor is on the proposed HSL Budapest – Szekszárd – Novi Sad. The Szeged – Osijek route would also connect there with the line to Vrbas, Serbian line 25.

The lines around Sombor, with proposed HSL…

New HSL Budapest - Baja - Novi Sad at Sombor, and regional lines.

At Osijek, the new line from Sombor would connect to the proposed Nova Gradiška – Požega – Osijek line, to the existing Drava plain line from Varaždin via Nasice (Croatian line R202), to the existing line to Djakovo (line M302), and to the proposed regional line Osijek – Odžaci – Novi Sad. South of Osijek, trains from Szeged and Sombor would again use the proposed HSL from Pécs, on a new alignment to Vinkovci, a major rail junction. The diagram shows proposed HSL and regional lines:

High-speed lines to / from Vinkovci

Vinkovci would be served by the proposed middle Sava high-speed line from Zagreb , the proposed Drava plain high-speed line and its extension to Novi Sad. With Vinkovci as terminus, the new route from Szeged would offer the same connections as the earlier proposed version.

The Sombor – Osijek route would create a new link across the rivers Danube and Drava, which are a historical barrier. Until the 20th century, the zone between Apatin and Osijek was marsh, with old Danube meanders. There is no historic road or railway across these marshes: all routes detour around the Danube bend at Erdut. Sombor and Apatin are in the Bačka region east of the Danube The western bank opposite Apatin is in Croatian Baranya, and Osijek itself is in Slavonia, south of the Drava.

Alignment

The new Sombor – Osijek route would be 45 km long, almost all of it on new alignment. Although the Sombor – Osijek section could be built to lower standards, the other sections would be new, or upgraded to the standards of the German Ausbaustrecken. It is therefore logical to design the Sombor – Osijek line for comparable speeds, 200 km/h or more. In practice, it will make little difference, since 150 km/h is standard for new lines in Europe anyway. There would be only one intermediate station, at Apatin (population 17 000).

The line would start at Sombor station, following the 1870 Sombor – Dalj – Osijek line. After leaving Sombor, that line turns south, towards the bridge at Erdut. Here, the new alignment would leave the existing railway, and run straight toward the western side of Apatin. It would follow only part of the 1912 branch line to Apatin, now Serbian Line 24. Most of Line 24 would be abandoned, except possibly on the western edge of Apatin – the new line would at least run parallel to the old line.

Sombor - Apatin

The new station in Apatin would preferably be close to the old station, and about 18 km from Sombor. The station would be on viaduct, because the line would climb here toward a Danube bridge (about 500 m from the station). The line would also turn here, to cross the Danube channel approximately at right angles.

On the west bank, the line would continue on viaduct through the marsh zone, heading toward Vardarac. The alignment shown follows an old drainage canal, but there is no definitive version. After it leaves the Kopački rit nature reserve, the line would run between Kopačevo and Bilje, toward the rail bridge at Osijek.

apatin - osijek

Approaching Osijek, the line would run parallel to the Bilje road. Close to the Drava, it would join the new HSL Pécs – Osijek, and then cross the river on a new bridge. If the HSL from Pécs crossed the Drava in tunnel, that junction would be further west, but that has little impact on the alignment as a whole. Assuming a bridge crossing, trains from the new line would share an upgraded line into Osijek station, about 2500 m from the Drava bridge.

With an almost entirely new alignment, the journey time should be about 23 minutes from Sombor to Osijek, including one stop at Apatin.

Sombor – Osijek inter-regional line

Rail lines in western Vojvodina / Bačka

The Vojvodina, an autonomous province of Serbia with about 2 million inhabitants, includes the historic regions of Bačka, Banat and Syrmia. The Bačka region is a plain between the rivers Danube and the Tisza/Tisa, and forms the western half of Vojvodina. However, it has no natural boundary on its northern side, and part of it is now in Hungary. The Bačka is a flat agricultural region, with a relatively high population density, and a total population of just over a million people.

The rail network is a product of historic circumstances, and is not geographically optimal. It was built within the Kingdom of Hungary, when the Bačka was a single administrative unit, the former Bacs-Bodrog county.

Click to enlarge: Bacs-Bodrog County, circa 1880, from Wikimedia

The railway lines were generally aligned north-south. South of the Danube was the autonomous Croatia-Slavonia, and there were only two Danube bridges. (The two lines terminating at Palanka were logical at the time: they could ship agricultural produce to a river port).

The first main lines were built around 1870, the rural lines around 1890-1910. The map below shows the historical growth of the network.

Click to enlarge: Bačka rail network 1869-1915, with Hungarian place names, CC3.0 licence, map by user VT.

Historical map of rail network in the Vojvodina.

The partition of the Kingdom of Hungary after the First World War cut many railway lines. Rural cross-border lines were closed, leaving only a few international main lines. Many internal rural lines were closed later anyway. In the Bačka, most towns and large villages are still served by the surviving lines, often of poor quality. The abandoned alignments are still available, but they often served only a few villages. A general restructuring of the regional rail network would, however, justify re-opening of a few closed sections.

Old and new main lines

New high-speed lines (HSL) would be the backbone of network restructuring in the Bačka. The only surviving main line is between Subotica and Novi Sad, line, part of the Budapest – Belgrade route (Kelebia route). It was part of a “Pan-European Corridor”, but these projects are now being re-evaluated. The line would be part of the earlier proposed high-speed line from Budapest to Belgrade. Some high-speed train might stop at Vrbas (population 26 000): in any case, the existing line and service would be upgraded.

The proposed HSL Budapest – Belgrade via Baja, Sombor and Novi Sad would add a second north-south axis in the Bačka. A third axis would be formed by the proposed regional line Szeged – Bečej – Novi Sad, along the Tisa.

High-speed rail and regional lines in western Vojvodina (Bačka)

In the northern Bačka, all three axes would be crossed by the upgraded lines from Sombor to Subotica and on to Szeged. That transverse axis would continue as the proposed Sombor – Vinkovci regional line. This line via Apatin can be considered as a fourth north-south axis, although only part of it is in the Bačka.

Click to enlarge: Sombor-Vinkovci, original alignments in black/white; Apatin cut-off in green; HSL and new Borovo curve in orange.

Sombor - Vinkovci rail line options, via Apatin and Dalj.

This line would provide interchange at Dalj, with trains to Osijek. It is the successor to the existing Erdut line, restoring the strategic route of the Alföld – Fiume line (1870), between Szeged, Sombor and Osijek.

In the southern Bačka, a new HSL Zagreb- Novi Sad, via Vinkovci and Vukovar would run parallel to the Danube, with no intermediate stations in the Bačka. The proposed fast Novi Sad – Zrenjanin line would probably have one intermediate station in the Bačka, at Zabalj. In the northern Bačka, the comparable inter-regional line Subotica – Kikinda would also cross the Tisa, with perhaps one intermediate station, at Senta.

Regional lines on main HSL axes in western Vojvodina (Bačka).

Regional lines

Two regional lines were proposed here earlier (shown green on the diagram). The east-west regional line Novi Sad – Odžaci – Osijek, is an upgraded version of existing Serbian line 21. The proposed Sombor – Zrenjanin service (including the existing line 25), would use a new bridge between Bečej and Novi Bečej. At Vrbas, it would cross the proposed HSL Budapest – Beograd.

Restructured radial lines around Odžaci…

Existing and new rail routes around Odžaci in Bačka region, Serbia.

If the HSL Sombor – Novi Sad ran via Odžaci, it could also allow interchange with the Novi Sad – Osijek regional line. (The earlier proposed alignment runs east of Odžaci, which has about 10 000 inhabitants). A station at Odžaci would also justify extending the existing branch to Bač, over its old alignment to Bačka Palanka. Re-opening of the old alignment from Odžaci to Crvenka (built 1908) would allow an Odžaci – Kula – Vrbas service.

Click to enlarge: the old line from Odžaci to Crvenka (highlighted blue), and the surviving line from there to Vrbas, in red. Austro-Hungarian military map of around 1910, with Hungarian place names.

Odžaci - Vrbas rail line, using old railway alignments, Bačka region, Serbia.

If the HSL Sombor – Novi Sad used the abandoned alignment via Bački Brestovac, then a third track would be sufficient for regional services, north of Odžaci. The existing Sombor -Erdut line (Serbian line 20) would then carry a residual local service, to Dalj or Osijek. (Its present function would be displaced by the proposed Sombor – Vinkovci line).

Bačka Palanka is at present only served by a branch line from Gajdobra, on line 21 (Novi Sad – Odžaci). This route from Novi Sad is indirect, and can not offer an alternative to the shorter main road along the Danube. The best option here is probably a regional tram line parallel to the main road, about 40 km long.

The lines listed here are probably the maximum extent, of a rail network in the Bačka. Other rural lines, such as Subotica – Crvenka – which served only three villages on a 62-km alignment – would not justify re-opening.

Rail lines in western Vojvodina / Bačka

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

Inter-regional line Zrenjanin – Timişoara

A fast inter-regional rail line, from Zrenjanin to Timişoara, would extend the proposed Novi Sad – Zrenjanin line. Together they would form a new high-speed line (HSL) from Novi Sad to Timişoara. From Zrenjanin, the new line would follow the existing Vršac line (Serbian line 43), and then the local line Cruceni – Timişoara (Romanian line 926).

Fast inter-regional rail line Zrenjanin - Timişoara, in the regional context

Zrenjanin (population 130 000) is the third city of the Vojvodina region, after the capital Novi Sad and Subotica. Timişoara (Temesvár in Hungarian, population 310 000) is the second city of Romania. Both are in the historical region of the Banat, which is now divided between Serbia and Romania (with a small part in Hungary).

Click to enlarge: Map of modern Banat by Andrei nacu, public domain.

Modern Banat

The proposed inter-regional line would cross a flat plain, at 80-90 m elevation, with no major rivers. Population densities are relatively low, about 30/km². The only possible stations are at Lazarevo and Jaša Tomić (population 3000 each). However, the two local rail lines should be reconnected anyway, so that may not be necessary. Like many others, the original Zrenjanin – Timişoara line was cut, when the Kingdom of Hungary was dissolved, after the First World War. Only a few kilometers of track are needed to reconnect it, between Jaša Tomić and Cruceni. The rest of the rural line can then be upgraded, for a regional service, serving Lazarevo, Jaša Tomić, and a few smaller villages.

Click to enlarge: Cruceni station, image by Jan Pešula

Terminus of line from Timişoara

The proposed line from Novi Sad would use the existing alignment (and station area) in Zrenjanin itself, with an enlarged station. The line to Timişoara would also follow the existing line: first south-east from the station, then eastwards. Within Zrenjanin, there is generally enough space to widen the alignment. The only problem is the sharp curve before the bridge over the river Begej.

From Zrenjanin eastwards, the alignment is almost straight, with a few curves which can be easily improved.

Click to enlarge: The line as built. The base map is an Austro-Hungarian military map of around 1910, with older Hungarian place-names: Becskerek = Zrenjanin.

Original line Zrenjanin - Timişoara

The new alignment would certainly bypass Sečanj, but it would pass close to Jaša Tomić. At Cruceni, a new alignment north of the village would be shorter. The present station is in the middle of the village – which is good for a local line, but not for a through line.

Again between Cruceni and Giulvăz, a new alignment is certainly needed to shorten the route. Between Giulvăz and Parţa, the new line can run parallel to the old. The existing line then enters the Timişoara metropolitan area, but it makes a detour via Utvin.

Click to enlarge: line highlighted in blue.

Original rail line Zrenjanin - Timişoara

Timişoara is the largest city between Budapest and Bucharest. It was once on a through rail route between these cities, via Szeged. With the construction of the proposed HSL via Szeged and Kikinda, this route would be restored. (From Timişoara to Bucharest, it would parallel Romanian main line 900, via Craiova).

Map: Extract from Romanian network map by Andrein, at Wikipedia RO, licence CC 3.0

Rail network around Timişoara

Like line 900, the main station ( Gara Timişoara Nord), is aligned east-west. To improve the present zig-zag alignment, a new approach line is needed. It would start near Parţa, and then join line 900, west of the station. This new alignment (shown in red) would be shared with the proposed heavily upgraded line to Beograd: south of Şag, that line would follow line 922 to Deta and Vršac.

Click to enlarge:

New inter-regional line Zrenjanin - Timişoara

The new Zrenjanin – Timişoara line would be 86-90 km long, station to station. Journey time should be under 35 minutes. In combination with the proposed Novi Sad – Zrenjanin line, a Novi Sad – Timişoara journey time of under one hour would certainly be feasible.

Inter-regional line Zrenjanin – Timişoara