The second Sunday in December is traditionally the day for rail operators across Europe to reorganise their timetables. The news this year is mostly positive for Southeast Europe, with a few of the connections lost in the last few years being recovered, and in particular a notable improvement in connections from Budapest to the Balkans. International services to and within the region are still greatly reduced compared to just a few years ago, but at least we are seeing some movements in the right direction.
As always information is fragmented, but I believe these are the main changes affecting the Balkans from 14th December 2014:
- There will be a new direct overnight service from Budapest via Romania to Sofia. This crosses from Romania to Bulgaria via the recently opened bridge over the Danube at Vidin, so it is a completely new route. The train departs from Budapest in the evening and passes through Hungary and Western Romania during the night, crosses the Danube in the morning and arrives in Sofia 22 hours after leaving Budapest. In the reverse direction the journey time is a couple of hours faster but but the pattern is similar, with a midday departure from Sofia and a night run through Romania and Hungary. The train has been named the "Serdica", at least in the timetables produced by MAV (Hungarian Railways), who of all European rail operators seem to be the most attached to the tradition of referring to trains by names.
- A new daytime Eurocity service links Vienna and Belgrade via Budapest. Departure time is in the morning in both directions, and journey time is 11 hours.
- Budapest now has 3 direct daily connections to Belgrade, one overnight and two during the day.
- The "Citadella", which had been cut short last year, once again links Budapest to Ljubljana directly, with a journey time of 8 hours. This route offers the appealing possibility of a stopover in the small town of Ptuj in eastern Slovenia.