Yesterday the Serbian media reported (read here the news report in English from B92) that vandals damaged old steam locomotives in a railway depot from the railway museum near the old railway station. Actually this old railway depot is opposite of the police station and the area is completely being leveled, because of the controversial Belgrade Waterfront project. It did not surprise me that this destruction happened : already in November 2016 I wrote about it, you can read the blog here. The only difference now is that vandals really did their best to demolish irreplaceable railway heritage and that it came in the news.
I know Serbia has a lot of problems, like the healthcare & educational system which is falling apart, a collapsing infrastructure, mismanagement of public services, media freedom, a brain drain etc. etc. , but it sad to see that this could happen and for sure it will happen again in the future. As railway enthusiast and somebody who loves Serbia as well this is sad to see, as if my heart is teared apart twice…..
JŽ serie 1 (click to enlarge) in better times…. Source: Wikipedia.
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An old railway carriage with a glorious past (or not)…..
Last Saturday I went to our train model club (Klub ljubitelja železnice Beograd) were we have a old Slovenian post wagon as our club premises. The wagon is stationed at the now closed Dunav stanica (Danube station) in Belgrade. The station is still staffed with friendly employees from Srbija Kargo , because there is still a connection to the Belgrade harbor. Old carriages are standing here now and I discovered that they stalled a “new” wagon was standing close to the former station building.The wagon at Dunav stanica
Curious as I was I took a closer look and this is what I saw on the wheels: Written in between the wheels was: ” K.P.E.V. Mod. 18A Wittman Haspe 1918 ”
I took some more pictures,as I thought this is pretty special: a train wagon which is 100 years, standing here now, I was really wow (for those who don´t know it yet: I like trains).The wagon seen from the other side.
When home I was tweeting these pictures and one Twitter follower, Arjan de Boer, who made a beautiful website about railway history (www.retours.eu) wrote to me that this is a beautiful discovery. Most possibly this is a wagon from the famous Wagon-Lits company (who exploited the famous “Orient-Express”). The K.P.E.V. stands for Königlich Preußische Eisenbahn-Verwaltung (KPEV) and they most possibly confiscated this wagon for their “Balkanzug” (Balkan train). The Balkan zug was a train from Berlin to Istanbul during WWI as alternative for the Orient-Express which could not be operated due the war. Arjan wrote me that he thinks that this must be wagon WL (Wagon-Lits) 2463 or 2467-2470 and that it stayed in Serbia after WWI. He sent me a picture of page from a book with some information about these wagons, see below:
I was pretty amazed that I just found such a wagon in ” the wild” .
I don ´t know what the plans are with this wagon, I hope it will be preserved for further generations, because it is a sad when railway heritage is being destructed as so much has already disappeared. I will find out what will happen with this old wagon. Below a picture of how it must have looked like when the wagon was fully operational.
Belgrade´s main railway station was moved 01/07/2018. I got a lot of questions from people abroad (but also Serbs are confused) about the current situation of railway station(s) in Belgrade, because the information is not easily available in English. Thus, I would like to provide you with the information you might need. Of course I can not be held responsible if some information is changed but it would be nice if if you have remarks , additional information etc., please share it with me.
Beograd Centar / Belgrade´s main railway station / Prokop The (“new”) main railway station of Belgrade is ” Beograd Centar” as they call it, click for the location on the Google Maps below. All trains leave from here, except the trains to Montenegro (see below under Topčider).
So for international destinations like Budapest, Vienna, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Skopje, Sofia this is the railway station you have to go to. Also for destinations in Serbia like Novi Sad, Subotica, Niš, Vršac this is then also your station.
How to get there?
This railway station is reachable by bus 36 from the old main railway station ( at Saska Trg). Another option is trolley bus 40 straight from Studentski Trg ( = city center). When you travel from the city center the stop is called “Ortopedski zavod”. A taxi is of course also an option.
Železnička stanica Topčider / Topčider railway station
The railway station Topičider is used for trains towards Montenegro,this is for day and night trains. Also the tourist train “Romantika” departs / arrives here.
How to get there? Simple answer: tram 3 to Kneževac brings you here.
Other railway stations Depending on where you are / have to go in Belgrade it can be wise to use another railway station. “Novi Beograd” could be an option for you or “Vukov Spomenik” or Pančevački most.
On this map I created you have an overview: Google Maps Železnice Srbije (Serbian Railways) The map is currently under development, but it will cover whole Serbia at the end.
“Belgrad, ici (=here) Belgrad”, you hear in the James Bond movie “From Russia with love”, when the most famous British spy 007 arrived with the mythical “Orient-Express” in Belgrade (or in Serbian “Beograd” which is the capital of Serbia, before Yugoslavia) from Istanbul while he was on his way to Venice.
James Bond arriving in Belgrade in the movie “From Russia with love”
Not only James Bond made a stop in Belgrade. Many, many celebrities and ordinary people passed here and set their first steps in Belgrade on the main railway station, including myself.
The main railway station of Belgrade (in the movie they used another station I think) was once a huge railway knot in Europe: if you traveled from West to South-East Europe or from North to South you could not miss it.
It had connections with many railways stations in Europe, like Paris (Gare de Lyon), Roma Termini, Zürich, Köln HBF, Dortmund HFB, München HBF, Hamburg HBF, Malmö C, Istanbul, Athens, Moscow, Warsaw and many others.
In the last decades many connections were lost, minimizing the importance of the railways in Serbia. Unfortunately another sad story regarding the loss of (railway) heritage can be added on the 30th June because then the main railway station of Belgrade will be closed. The last scheduled train will arrive at from Vienna at 20:48. Then at 21h40 the last train ever from Belgrade´s main railway station will leave to Budapest.
Beside that it is a really sad that Belgrade will be one of the few capital cities where the main railway station will not be in the city center. A historical place for the city of Belgrade and Serbia in general which disappears…
Belgrad, Belgrade, Beograd, ici “Belgrad”
On the banks of the last kilometer of the Sava river there once was a famous railway station. A station where people started their travel towards their dreams, their families, their loved ones.
For others it was an arrival back home or a start for new adventures.
On the platforms people cried, laughed and sad farewell to their loves.
Kings, emperors, generals, adventurers all passed here,
when travelling to or from far destinations.
A bureaucratic pencil stripe ended it all. The rails to the station will be disconnected and
no more trains will ever departure or arrive here.
Modern times will simply vanish everything away, but they will never erase the memories of the people
when they heard “Belgrad”, “Belgrade” “Beograd” , ici “Belgrade”.
On a memorial plate in the main railway station of Belgrade you can read: “This building was opened 23rd August 1884 when Belgrade had 35480 inhabitants. The first train had 200 passengers and went to Niš, the railway station had two platforms. Around 1924 Belgrade had 170000 inhabitants and had a traffic of 46 trains daily with 16000 passengers. In 1939 Belgrade had 314000 inhabitants and had a traffic of 116 trains with 32800 passengers daily. The plate was revealed in 1970, when the railway station had 10 platforms, 150 trains daily with 45000 passengers”.
Today 27 trains arrive and 27 trains depart from the main railway station in Belgrade,because the current main railway station is going slowly to disappear. At one point all the trains will stop in Belgrade’s new main railway station with the name,despite being more far away from the city center, ” Beograd Centar”.
The station is not only going to disappear, because of an old plan of Tito (yes the former leader of Yugoslavia), but also because of the current Belgrade’s Waterfront plans. Construction already started and the area is transforming rapidly, see my pictures below: one displaying the situation in 2010 and one now in 2017.
The plans are pretty controversial here in Serbia, but for me as a railway fan it hurts to see that railway heritage is being slowly destroyed. It was here when the famous Orient Express halted on it’s way from Paris to Istanbul. Millions of people passed this place with their dreams, hopes, fears, sadness and joy. It was here where I set my first step in Belgrade (28/08/2008). It was here when I was sometimes drinking a beer with for example Yvo Kuhling, while watching the steady stream of passengers arriving or departing.
It was here when I was “adopted” by the members of “Belgrade model railway club” (in Serbian Klub Ljubitelja Železnice – Beograd, website) and where we talked about trains while drinking a beer. Their (or our) railway wagon (with models) was moved a couple of months and now nothing: there is no more electricity so meetings cannot be held any more. I truly hope there will be a solution for our railway club.
And of the railway station ? They say it will not be destroyed, but the day the the last train arrives and leaves Belgrade main railway station is approaching faster then we think……
According to the information I have received the station will finally close 01/07/2018.
Last wednesday (05 July 2017) I was at the railway station of Thessaloniki in Greece.
On the 9th October 2004 I was here the last time. Why I do remember ? I do remember as it was from here where I took the train further into the Balkans: first to Skopje and afterwards I also visited Serbia and Bulgaria. Thus, it was from here I took my first steps into the Balkans.
Not a lot has changed since then, as you can see below on the picture I made on the same spot, but then almost 13 years later.
The only thing which changed is that I am married to a beautiful lovely Serbian lady and that I live in Serbia now which is in the the heart of the Balkans….
“Pruga” (=Rails) is the monthly newspaper of the Serbian Railways (Železnice Srbije), which can be downloaded here (link). In the Netherlands we had something similar, it was called “Rails”, but that one disappeared already a long time ago.
On the 5th April I held a presentation for the Klub ljubitelja železnice Beograd (=the Railfan Club Belgrade). I got in touch with them already before and they asked me if I would like the give a presentation about the Dutch railways: sure no problem, with pleasure as I like trains and I worked for the railways myself and I am from a railway family. I asked some advice about the newest developments , collected some pictures from myself and held the presentation.
The presentation was held in the club headquarters which is an old post wagon, standing on the main railway station of Belgrade, so location wise perfect. I did it in Serbian/ English and it went pretty well. There was also one journalist of the magazine “Pruga” who interviewed me , “et voila” , here is the result (click to enlarge):
The whole *.*pdf can be downloaded here. Congrats for Josip, the journalist who wrote the article very fast and in one time without any mistakes ( trust me that is a gift, I have seen it differently) . Already agreed is that I will give the same presentation (with less pictures although) to the Railway club in Pančevo, looking forward to it.
I am proud that I can enlarge the Dutch-Serbian relationship in an unknown area (as I already did before, see www.secanje.nl) and bring it to another level 🙂 !
The day starts more or less with the Eurocity train “Avala” to Vienna, which leaves Belgrade at 07h36, while some earlier local trains have already left. The next international train they can catch is the 10h55 train to Schwarzach St. Veit (Austria) via Zagreb. If they missed that one then 40 minutes later they could try their luck on the 11h35 to Budapest. Then the whole day there is no chance to catch a train towards Western-Europe. Two night trains leave Belgrade, one at 21h20 to Ljubljana (Slovenia) and 30 minutes later to Budapest.
They could simply jump on a train and go to follow their dreams, but now it is a problem as the borders are closed. One of them told me they are all from the same village in Afghanistan and he wants to go to the UK. They are on the run for war and poverty and they live now next to the old Belgrade train depot. Hundred years ago it wouldn’t be a problem to go to the UK from here as there would be every day an Orient-Express towards Paris with a connection to London.
The railway man allowed them to stay, almost as passengers who missed their train, but they have been missing their trains since half of December.
A lot of (Western) NGOs (like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, but also Dutch organisations etc.) and media outlets (like NOS, BBC etc.) showed the alleged bad treatment of refugees here in Serbia. I had again the opportunity to ask them (the refugees) about these allegations as a human being and not as an journalist or a member of an NGO who needs a sad story.
We just had a normal talk and at one point they told me that they have not been treated badly at all. Yes the conditions were tough during winter and yes the situation is far from good, but bad treatment? No, not at all and the Serbs are friendly to them and they do not encounter any problems here in Serbia. They could go to a refugee centre, but they do not want to, they explained to me, because they want to leave Serbia and go to Western-Europe.
I could only wish them luck and hope that one day they will catch the right train towards their dream. Sincerely, I wish them all the best.
The area around the (current) main railway station is in development for the controversial Belgrade Waterfront project. The current station will disappear and new buildings will arise along the riverbank of the Sava river. Last Saturday (19/11/2016) construction workers, bus drivers, truck drivers, railway workers, refugees and a lonely trainspotter could be found.
The preparations started with groundwork so I took the opportunity (maybe one of the last) to photograph these old steam-locomotives. With the help of other Balkan railway fans on the internet I got actually to know which types of locomotives I saw.
Once those locomotives were driving through the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and later Socialist Yugoslavia, connecting the people of Yugoslavia. We can only guess how many kilometers those locomotives were driving through snow, rain and heat. They connected business people, diplomats and loved ones with each other…
Now for ever sided in the rubbish and soon they will disappear because the future is waiting and it seems there is no place (so far) any more for those oldies…. Let’s hope they will not disappear as this is historical railway heritage.
For a question which I got via my network I had to do a little research of the signalling system in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia during the thirties of last century (the inter-war period). The Orient-Express was in full operation and from Paris to Istanbul it passed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the person who contacted me need very specific details for a film production.
So the first step was the Serbian Railway museum close to my work here in Belgrade. I had been already many times there and it is an old style museum: when you enter you make a step back in time, but the step back in time is for free as the entrance is (still?) for free.
When the employees listened to me last week of what I needed to told me that they could and will help me. Today I went back and the lady was very friendly: she heard already about the story and her colleague, who is soon going to retire, would get the desired item for me: the “signalni pravilnik, važi od 1 aprila 1932 god.” (the signalling rule book, valid from 1 April 1932) from the “Državne Železnice Kraljevine Jugoslavije” (State Railways of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia). In 15 minutes I was done and had the whole book photographed.
Mission accomplished and I am very grateful to the kind help of the employees of the Serbian Railway museum. While chit-chatting with them they told me that due the split up (aka privatization) of the Serbian Railways the museum would most possible disappear on it is current location and current form. All alarm bells went off.
Why ? Because during the nighties of the last century the Netherlands was in full privatization mode: let’s privatize all government tasks, because the market could do it better! I am from a family where everybody worked for the Dutch railways and I worked there as well. I was part of the bigger (European) railway “family” which thus was privatized and after that it did not exist any more.
This did not happen only happened with the railways, but it also happened with the Dutch health care system, the post & telephony services (PTT) and many other government services. It seems this trend started now in Serbia and I personally think that it is not a good trend. Yes efficiency of course, but basic government services (health care, PTT, transport) should not be privatized. Back in the Netherlands more voices are against further privatization are even reverse it in some cases.
For Serbia it is easy, because they can learn from the mistakes they made in Western-Europe / European Union with privatizing basic government services.