Sunday 13 December 2009

First train leaves Belgrade to Sarajevo in 18 years

The first train leaves Belgrade for Sarajevo 18 years after the service was halted by war.

BELGRADE, SERBIA (DECEMBER 13, 2009) REUTERS - Creaking and swaying through a landscape of bitter memories, the once beloved Belgrade-Sarajevo train service was restarted on Sunday (December 13) after almost 18 years after the war stopped the service in its tracks.
The train left Belgrade railway station at 07.15 GMT.

When the service was stopped people had to use buses or other means of transportation to get to their destination.

"I am pleased, especially because I work there (referring to Bosnia) and it goes there, earlier we had a difficult time, we used buses, and other means of transport, now I am satisfied," said Nada Gajic, one of the passengers on the train.

The train has three coaches, one from Serbia, one from the Bosnian Serb republic, and a coach from the Bosnain-Croat federation railway companies.

The journey will take more than eight hours instead of six due to the new borders between Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia. The journey time is also impacted by the dilapidated track worn out by war, neglect and poverty.

A spokesman from Serbian railways said there is a great demand for the service,

"After the assessment of Serbian railways and Bosnian railways and Bosnian Serb railways, we now have an economic reason to establish such a railway service, and we all expect that there will be enough passengers to fulfil the economic interests of both railway systems," said Nenad Stanisavljevic, spokesperson of Serbian railways.

The express became one of the victims of the wars that erupted in Croatia in 1991 and Bosnia in 1992, fomented by nationalist leaders riding a wave of discontent with a failed economy, crippled by Tito's reckless foreign borrowing.

Parts of the track were blown up or became front lines as an ethnic Serb rebellion cut Croatia in half, and ethnic Serbs, Croats and Muslims fought each other in Bosnia.

The swanky trains of Yugoslavia's golden age -- the "Olympic Express" and the "Bosna Express" -- are gone, to be replaced by older, rickety carriages and slower locomotives.

On the train's route, the legacy of the war is inescapable.

Vinkovci in Croatia, once a main rail junction, was on the front lines and still carries the scars of Serb shelling.

The Bosnian towns of Doboj, Samac and Modrica became notorious for ethnic cleansing and concentration camps.

The present public transport link between the two cities -- a bus taking eight hours to wind its way through backwater towns to the sound of thumping Balkan pop -- is seldom full.

There will only be one train a day, compared with the schedule before the war, when there were three.

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