International passenger

trains in 20th Century Europe

International passenger trains in 20th Century Europe

A3: Balkan


Fig 1: Balkan frontiers in 1989

Orient route changes

Decline of the

Simplon Orient route

Tauernbahn changes

Introducing the Orient routes

Breaking the monopoly

Fig 1 shows the principal trunk routes in South Eastern Europe extant in 1989. The morphology of the network had changed little since 1945. Up to 1989 there were two main axes for passenger and freight traffic – to/from Russia and connections within the satellite states of which the Berlin-Praha-Budapest-Beograd-Sofia route was an important example. In comparison, border crossings between the satellite states and western European states were comparatively few reflecting a paucity of traffic.

The war inhibited trains heading from Budapest to Beograd and then to Sofia and Istanbul. An altenative route was found which bypassed Beograd. Accordingly a through train called the Trans Balkan Express was started in 2000 linking Budapest with Bucureşti, Sofia, Thessaloniki and Istanbul.

The Orient route was disrupted by  the destruction of the Žeželj bridge at Novi Sad between Beograd and Budapest which is being rebuilt.

The Yugoslav conflict brought lasting disruption to this route such that freight and international passenger traffic were diverted via the former Orient Express spine – Budapest-Bucureşti and thence Thessaloniki via Sofia.

The Simplon Orient ceased to function in 1992. Its new role was to link the new capitals – Ljubljana, Zagreb and Sarajevo with Beograd. Traffic across the Slovene-Italian border at Sežana dwindled and died in early 2012. There are now five border crossings compared with two before 1989. Traffic has been very slow in returning to this route.

South of Beograd, access to Greece was suspended during the war and then suspended again from 2011 for financial reasons. The Greek-Macedonian frontier saw no international traffic. Athenai was the first European capital to divorce the European network. By 2013 the Greek-Macedonian border remained closed. There was no traffic from Greece to Bulgaria or Turkey. Trains from Beograd to Skopje via Kosovo Polje were suspended due to the political status of Kosovo.

With the closure of the Italo-Slovene boundary, traffic from Western Europe to Slovenia and Croatia was increasingly routed through Villach to Jesenice. In 2013, Beograd was linked with Zurich by this route.

 Historically rail  access to the Balkans was controlled by the Austro Hungarian Empire. The Yugoslav conflict resulted in this traffic being rerouted through Bucureşti Thus  traffic for Turkey and Greece could avoid Yugoslavia altogether.

Welcome to