International passenger

trains in 20th Century Europe

International passenger trains in 20th Century Europe

A2: Balkans -

New horizons!

The demise of Soviet Russia

The coming of the European Union

The collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989 had far reaching consequences for the railway systems of the successor states. Under the Soviets the railway system was the prime mover of freight and passengers and was expected to cope with whatever central planning decreed it should carry.

Political changes were accompanied by challenging restructuring of the economies of the former Soviet bloc states. Soviet economic direction was in the form of a command-style economy based on central planning. The transition from command to free market economies started in the 1990’s had seen radical effects on the rail network since the former reliance on Soviet markets has dwindled – notably reorientation of traffic flows.  

The railwaysystems were expected to deliver the requirements of the planning process whether or not it cope.


 Starting in 1990 Balkan railways suffered a loss of freight and passengers. Russia dominated freight traffic and Moskva was a prime passenger destination and a network of services had been created to supply this need.

 The infrastructure had deteriorated due to lack of investment and access to funding was very restricted especially for the new states in former Yugoslavia.

 For the third time in the 20th century the network did not match the needs of the new states. Railways remained the transport mode of choice and th Easten European states had the highest utilisation for passengers and freight of all states in Europe.

 The change to market forces was a severe challenge not helped by the infrastructural problems bequeathed by the passing of the Soviet system.

 The vacuum left by the Soviet system encouraged the European Union (EU) to extend its influence into South East Europe bringing sources of long term finance to bring improvements to the rail infrastructure. This caused these states to apply for EU membership.

 The EU had initially concentrated on Western Europe in developing transport networks to support the Single Market. Technical harmonisation was promoted by tackling the known weaknesses  of the existing network;-

• Two main gauge changes

• Seventeen different signalling systems

• Different traction systems and standards.

 All these proved a barrier to international freedom of movement.

 By 2000, a number of priority projects had been proposed. A network of trunk routes was identified, many of them involving South Eastern European states. There were conditions to be followed in states applying for funding:-

• To separate operations from infrastructure

• To speed up trans-border working

• To reduce overmanning.

New traffic from Asia & China

 The Asian republics had become independent of Russia in 1990 and they began looking at land routes for their exports to Western Europe. To facilitate this, a tunnel has been constructed across the Bosphorus in Istanbul which is due to open shortly. This will require substantial upgrading of the western routes to Istanbul. Whilst this project is aimed at freight, passenger services to Turkey in  Asia and the east would be possible.

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