Hungary-Serbia railway section opened: a Balkans Belt and Road Initiative

The Belgrade-Novi Sad section of the 350-km Belgrade-Budapest railway was inaugurated on Saturday in Serbia’s Novi Sad. Once finished, trains will run at a speed up to 200 km/h between Belgrade and Budapest, bringing the Balkans closer to central Europe. China is financing parts of a high-speed train route from Budapest, through Serbia and North Macedonia to the Greek port of Piraeus.

A section of the Chinese-built Hungary-Serbia railway opened on Saturday in Serbia, marking a milestone, according to the China State Railway Group, the company that manages and oversees all of the country’s railway projects.

Swiss train manufacturer Stadler Rail delivered three high-speed trains for the route. (Photo: Serbian president’s office)

The section linking Belgrade, Serbia’s capital and its largest city, with Novi Sad, its second-largest city, reduces travel time from 90 to 30 minutes, greatly improving efficiency.

Trains are now able to travel the 80 kilometer section at 200 km per hour, up from less than 50 km per hour before.

The Hungary-Serbia railway is a flagship project designed to demonstrate cooperation between China and Central and Eastern Europe, and is also a major project in the Belt and Road Initiative affiliate region. When completed, the 350-kilometer line will link Budapest, the capital of Hungary, with Belgrade.

An inauguration ceremony was held at the railway station in Novi Sad, Serbia’s second largest city. China Railway International (CRI) and China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) are in charge of the reconstruction of the Belgrade-Stara Pazova section of the line, while Russia’s RZD International is reconstructing the Stara Pazova-Novi Sad section.

Serbia previously signed a 62.2 million euro ($68.7 million) agreement with Swiss train manufacturer Stadler Rail for the delivery of three high-speed trains, to be used on the Belgrade-Novi Sad railway line.

The ceremony was attended by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, as well as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and representatives of the Chinese and Russian embassies in Serbia.

The Serbian president said the 75-kilometer-long railway section was built by Chinese and Russian companies, and German companies installed surveillance, and the trains were manufactured in Switzerland.

Orban congratulated the Serbians on the newly built railway, saying that the two countries have historical good ties.

“In the past 70 years we have been connecting countries in the east-west direction and forgot the importance of north-south connections,” Orban said, “this resulted in an inappropriate situation that it took too many hours to arrive from Belgrade to Budapest.”

“So we made an alliance with President Vucic aiming to change this, and we will succeed in this effort,” Orban added.