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Serbia's first high-speed railway opens thanks to Chinese finance – CGTN – CGTN

Reconstruction of a railway line between Budapest and Belgrade was part of ‘flagship project’ enhancing China’s presence in the Balkans./Darko Vojinovic/AP

Reconstruction of a railway line between Budapest and Belgrade was part of ‘flagship project’ enhancing China’s presence in the Balkans./Darko Vojinovic/AP

 

While the entire world is carefully monitoring conflicts between Russia and Ukraine, Serbia has been preparing for the grand opening of the first stretch of the new high-speed railway. The 75 kilometer-long part connects the two largest cities in Serbia, Belgrade and Novi Sad. It is a part of a much bigger, ongoing project to connect Belgrade to Hungary’s capital Budapest. 

Ahead of the railway’s official opening, heavy machines make some finishing touches to one of the train stations on the outskirts of Belgrade. Tests were conducted to ensure the railway had EU certification, and of course, the train drivers are familiarizing themselves with the new route.

The line includes a 184 kilometers section in Serbia and 166 kilometers stretch in Hungary and is designed to reduce journey times between Belgrade and Budapest from eight hours to less than three hours. Currently, some line speeds on the route are as low as 60 kilometers per hour (km/h). When fully operational, the high-speed trains can travel at up to 200 km/h as part of the $370.4 million contract awarded to China Civil Engineering and China Railway.

 

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These 75 kilometers are just a small stretch of railway in Serbia and overall, it won’t dramatically change the county’s infrastructure. Yet it is significant because it is the first step of a larger project to make Serbia a modern 21st-century transportation hub within South-East Europe.

 

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Serbia’s goal is to build a high-speed railway network stretching from the country’s southern border with North Macedonia to the northern border with Hungary.

“Right after this is finished, we’ll start with the construction of the Novi Sad to Subotica stretch, and it will be finished by 2024,” Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic said. “Hungary should finish its 153 km-long part around the same time. After that, we’ll have a Belgrade to Budapest railway, that trains would cross in two hours and 45 minutes.”

Russian railways were also involved in the project and Serbia has seen a sharp rise in travelers from Russia after the EU banned all flights from the bloc.
Serbia’s plans to become an EU member have been adversely affected by its refusal to condemn the war in Ukraine. Vucic has said Serbia respects Ukraine’s sovereignty but has not gone any further.

The partnership with China has financed the entire high-speed railway from Belgrade to the Hungarian border. A fruitful collaboration frequently praised by Vucic who said, “I am very happy because of the very successful collaboration we have with the People’s Republic of China and we are always grateful to our friend Xi Jinping for everything that he has done for Serbia, and because the Chinese companies are very reliable partners of our country.”

Serbia is leading the way in the Balkans with its infrastructure projects, building hundreds of kilometers of new highways, railways, and airports. Many of those projects are happening with help from China. Serbia hopes that these projects can help the country to achieve its goal of becoming the most important transportation hub of this part of Europe.

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