Monday, June 25, 2012

No more slow trains to Pogradec

Both Seat 61 and Europe by Rail report that it is no longer possible to travel by train from Tirana/Durres through central Albania to Pogradec on the shores of Lake Ohrid. This probably won't disrupt the travel plans of many travellers, few of whom were ever prepared to submit themselves to the rigours of the famously slow 6-to-7 hour trip. But the distinctive character of the journey did appeal to some visitors, and I had hoped to travel the route some day myself. I have not seen any indication of what prompted the closure or whether there is any hope of a resumption of services in future.

There is still one service daily on this line, from Tirana via Durres and Elbasan as far as Librazhd, a town I have to confess I had never previously heard of. It takes around five hours from Tirana to Librazhd, four hours of which are accounted for by the meandering route between Tirana and the the substantial town of Elbasan, a trip which can of course be done much more quickly by bus.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Changes to Romania-Serbia rail connections

A couple of weeks ago the rail operators of Romanian and Serbia announced revisions to the main cross-border train service between the two countries.

For many years the overnight train from Bucharest to Belgrade was the key rail link between Romania and Serbia. This train called at Timișoara, with a painfully early morning departure time for those joining the train there, as I well remember from my own trip several years ago. There was also a stop at Vršac just over the Serbian side of the border. Apparently the "direct" aspect of this service has recently become a rather notional concept, with replacement buses being used for stretches of the journey. Now the train has been withdrawn from timetables.

The good news is that it has been replaced by not one but two cross-border trains daily - a rare example in the time I have been writing this blog of an increase in frequency on a cross-border rail route in Southeast Europe. These will be regional trains between Timișoara and Vršac only. A standard single ticket will cost around 5 euro.

Coming from Romania, one service retains the early morning departure from Timișoara, so it is presumably still possible to connect with a night train from Bucharest. This train will be met in Vršac by a bus to Belgrade. Similarly a bus will leave Belgrade in late afternoon to connect with the Vršac-Timișoara train. The second daily train (late afternoon from Timișoara, morning from Vršac) doesn't have a specific bus connection with Belgrade. In any case there is a good bus service between Vršac and Belgrade so travellers shouldn't feel restricted to the connecting bus if they want to spend a little more time in Vršac which is a very pleasant town.

More information including timetables is available in the press release from Serbian Railways, and on the excellent Europe by Rail website. When reading timetables don't forget that Romanian time is one hour ahead of Serbian time.