Monday, December 24, 2007

Train timetable changes: Zagreb-Thessaloniki no more

Please note that this post was originally written in December 2007. Since then there has been a further round of changes - see my later post about timetable changes in December 2008.

December 9th marked the introduction of new train timetables across Europe, with some important changes to international routes in the Balkans. After spending some time trying to reconcile conflicting sources of information, my current understanding of some of the changes in the 2007/2008 timetable is outlined here.

The "Olympus Express", which used to run from Ljubljana to Thessaloniki via Zagreb, Belgrade, and Skopje, will now run from Ljubljana to Belgrade only. This means that there is no longer any direct overland connection between Slovenia/Croatia and Macedonia/Greece. I've travelled on this train several times, and will miss it even though it always seemed to be late: I liked the idea of travelling from the Aegean to the edge of the Alps in a single journey. Of course it is still possible to do this trip by rail, but a change of trains in Belgrade is now required. The change also means that there is only a single daily train between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia - further weakening the already poor public transport links between those two countries.

Thessaloniki may now be less well connected to Croatia and Slovenia, but connections to some other parts of Central and Eastern Europe have improved. The "Hellas Express" continues to run every day from Thessaloniki to Belgrade, albeit with a slightly different schedule. This train will also carry through carriages to Budapest (23 hours from Thessaloniki), Vienna (27 hours), and Prague (32 hours). This is the first time in many years that it is possible to travel to these cities without a change of train on the direct route through Serbia, rather than looping around through Romania.

For truly hardcore train buffs, the Hellas Express will also have a through car to Kiev and Moscow - an epic journey of (gulp) 66 hours.

On the Belgrade-Bar line, the so-called "business train" has been withdrawn for the moment, and will now run during the summer season only. This leaves just one daytime train and one night train running year round on the route from Bar to Belgrade's main station. There is an additional night train from Bar to Novi Sad and Subotica which calls at Novi Beograd.

It's worth noting that at the time of writing, online information about Balkan train schedules is a bit of a mess. The Greek and Macedonia rail operators have not updated their websites to reflect the new timetables. It also appears that the European Rail Timetable on the Die Bahn and Austrian Railways sites has not been updated with complete information about trains through Greece or Montenegro. The nightly train from Bar to Nis seems to be missing from all online timetables, but I'm told that it still runs all year round.

I have updated the page about travelling from Croatia to Greece to reflect these changes.

All that remains is for me to wish all the readers of Balkanology a Happy Christmas and New Year - and happy travels in 2008.


Anonymous said...

hey Alan
it's Marko (mpetrovic)

happy New year, marry christmass, etc :)
and happy travels in 2008!

Been to train station yesterday, remembered to ask about this Nish-Bar train
it seems that now there are two trains from Nish to Bar, but one of them runs only in summer months

so basically, there's daily night train dep. Nish at 19:00, all year round. Another one, active only in some summer period (forgot dates), dep. Nish ~20:00h

there used to be daily Bar-Nish train too, on that arrivals timetable, but forgot arrival/dep. times.

see you around..

Anonymous said...

On my recent visit to Zagreb, Croatia (January 2008), while at the main train staion in Zagreb (Glavni Kolodvor), I noted significant changes (most of them negative) to the old international rail route schedule I fondly remember from the 1980's. Whatever happened to balkan international rail travel. Following trains have been taken out of service for good it seems;
Akropolis Express, Hellas Express, Orient Express, Simplon Express, etc.
I used to travel frequently on these trains and mainly connecting in Zagreb, Croatia while coming from Zurich, Switzerland. It enabled Western Europeans travel to some of the very remote regions thru-ought the Balkans, places like Kosovo Polje (Kosovo), Strumica (Macedonia), etc. It would be great to see the return to service of some of these famed trains. I'm visiting Croatia again in December 2008 and while I will be required to transfer several times to reach Koprivnica, Croatia (Podravina Region) close to the Hungarian border, I look forward to my train journey. My route will be as follows;
Brig, Wallis (Switzerland) to Milano Centrale (Italy).
Milane Centrale to Venezia Mestre.
Venezia Mestre via Trieste, Ljubljana (Slovenia) via Zagreb to Koprivnica (my stop) while the train will continue on to Budapest (Hungary.
My return journey will be as follows;
Koprvnica to Zagreb (Glavni Kolodvor)
Zagreb via Ljubljana (Slovenia), Innsbruck HBF (Austria) to Zurich HBF (Switzerland) on the EuroNight Zurich/Belgrade Express.
My journey will end on a United Airlens flight from Zurich to San Francisco (home).

alison said...

can you help me with the times of the trains from thessaloniki to sofia? i want to go from volos in greece, change at larrisa to thessaloniki and then get the express train.


Alan said...

Alison, as far as I know the times shown on for Thessaloniki-Sofia are reliable. Currently there are two relatively fast trains daily at 06.26 and 17.48, taking just over 6 hours. A slower overnight train leaves at 00.09 and takes a little over 7.5 hours.

Anonymous said...

Balkan apsurdities! With some normal people inhabiting the region there should be no reason not to have fast train connection from Slovenia to Greece, criss-crossing the region (except for the politically unstable provincies like Kosova and Bosnia) -hire some Italian, French or Spanish rail system engineers and bridge the stupid divide. There's no reason not to be able to travel from Zagreb to Ljubljana round the clock, for under an hour --for crying out loud one could even walk faster the distances that these supposed "trains" are supposed to cover!
And this is mostly caused by Balkan's petty ethnic and 'national' horseshit.

Klods said...
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