The outdated Budapest-Belgrade railway is being modernised to improve the connectivity between Hungary and Serbia. The modernisation project will deliver a 350km-long double-track electrified high-speed railway network and enhance passenger services.
The cross-border railway line is being upgraded to European standards. The project is an important part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a global project of the Chinese Government to connect Asia with Africa and Europe.
Project background of the Budapest-Belgrade railway
China, Hungary and Serbia reached an agreement for the construction of the Belgrade-Budapest high-speed railway project at the summit of the ‘16+1 initiative’ in Belgrade in December 2014.
The ‘16+1’ group, which comprises 16 Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries and China, focuses on enhancing cooperation among the nations in the fields of economy, culture and infrastructure.
Budapest-Belgrade railway project details
The project involves the construction of new tracks and the reconstruction of existing tracks along the route. Approximately 166km of the railway will be located in Hungary, while the remaining 184km will be in Serbia. The dual-purpose railway will transport passengers and freight between the capitals of Serbia and Hungary.
The Serbian side of the railway link includes three sections, namely the 34.5km-long Belgrade-Stara Pazova, the 40.4km-long Stara Pazova-Novi Sad, and the 107.4km-long Novi Sad-Subotica-state border sections. The line will have a design speed of 200km/h, while the trains on the route will be able to operate at a speed of 160km/h.
The modernisation of the rail link involves the construction of a new second track to deliver a new double-track line for the transportation of passengers and cargo, as well as the reconstruction of the existing single-track line.
The construction of the Serbian section of the project commenced in 2018. The 34.5km-long Belgrade-Stara Pazova section, which is the third section of the Budapest-Belgrade railway, was opened for service in March 2021.
The Belgrade-Stara Pazova section involved modifications to the railway alignment, stations, and station amenities. Furthermore, it included the construction of grade-separated rail/road crossings and lineside infrastructure such as bridges, overpasses and underpasses.
The section was installed with modern signalling-interlocking systems and telecommunication systems to enable quick transmission of information to the locomotive cab for safe and efficient transportation. Approximately 27km of new tracks were laid, 84km of track was reconstructed and 150 switches were replaced. The section was upgraded to the European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2.
The foundation stone for the construction of the Hungarian section was laid in October 2021. The entire project is expected to be completed by 2025.
Financing of the rail link
The project is being mainly funded by the Chinese Government. The Hungarian Government secured a $2.1bn loan from China, which represents approximately 85% of the investment required for the Hungary section of the project, in 2020.
Serbia also reached a $297m loan arrangement with the Export-Import Bank of China. The total cost of the 184km-long Serbian section is approximately $2bn. The remaining investment in the project will be made by the governments of Serbia and Hungary to complete the respective sections.
Benefits of Budapest-Belgrade railway project
The travel time between Budapest and Belgrade is expected to be reduced from eight hours to 3.5 hours, upon completion of the project.
The upgrade will facilitate rapid transportation of Chinese products between Greek ports and Western Europe. It is also expected to transform Hungary into a regional logistics hub.
The Belgrade Centre-Stara Pazova section of the high-speed railway line was constructed by the consortium of China Railway International (CRI) and China Communication Construction Company (CCCC).
The Belgrade Centre-Stara Pazova section was designed by the Institute of Transportation CIP, a Serbia-based design and engineering company.
A joint venture (JV) of German company DB Engineering & Consulting, Utiber and Cestra was contracted to supervise the modernisation and renovation of the Belgrade-Stara Pazova section.
DB Engineering & Consulting was also contracted to serve as a technical consultant for the reconstruction and upgrade of the Stara Pazova-Novi Sad section. China Railway Design Corporation (CRDC) provided the design for the Novi Sad-Subotica section, while the CRI-CCCC consortium was contracted for the construction of the Novi Sad-Subotica section.
German engineering services company Peri provided construction support for the Cortanovci viaduct on the Stara Pazova-Novi Sad section.
International transportation and logistics company AsstrA received a contract to provide transit and customs documentation services for the transportation of containers for the construction of the project.
CRE Consortium, a consortium of Chinese and Hungarian companies, was awarded the $2.07bn construction contract for the Hungarian section of the line between Budapest and Belgrade in 2019. The consortium comprises Hungarian manufacturing company Opus Global’s subsidiary RM International, China Tiejiuju Engineering & Construction, and China Railway Electrification Engineering Group.