March 2018 - BLNI Extra 37 Montenegro
[D11] Montenegro - The alternative PTG tour
Montenegro - October 2017
The 2017 PTG brochure featured a railtour in Montenegro. Normally, PTG trips involve a dedicated
charter train. This enables journeys down freight-only lines, sometimes very lengthy, plus photo-stops
at stations and often mid-section. The Montenegro tour should have been on the same basis, but at
short notice a new top railway chief stymied this intension. The diesel locomotives, normally only
used on freight trains, are not fitted with the safety features required for passenger service. Instead,
the tour was revised to be based on having a PTG-only coach attached to timetabled public trains.
The downside would be a lack of photo-stop opportunities, plus not travelling on the freight-only line
towards the Albanian border. Pre-booked participants were given the opportunity of cancelling with
a total refund or opting for Plan B with a substantial refund. Your correspondent took the latter
decision, since there was still plenty of railway interest, plus the chance of some cultural explorations.
Most of the participants were booked into a luxury hotel in Podgorica, the capital city. The city is
dominantly post WW2, a mix of Soviet Brutalist and more recent buildings. The latter includes a
monstrous new Orthodox cathedral, only finished in 2013. There is a small historic centre with
mosques and the remnants of a Roman fort.
Each of the three full days of the tour involved just a half-day of train travel, although on the morning
of Day 1 the PTG party explored the railway facilities at Podgorica. Before describing the railway
explorations during the mini-tour, some background information about Montenegro may be helpful.
Montenegro has a complex history, during the last two centuries being a component of the Austro-
Hungarian Empire, then part of the relatively short-lived Yugoslavia state. After the horrendous
fragmentation of Yugoslavia, Serbia-Montenegro became a federated state in 1992. Following a
referendum on 2006, which required a 55% threshold, Montenegro became an independent state. In
terms of area, Montenegro is two-thirds the size of Wales, but with a fifth of the population (660,000),
a third of whom live in the municipality of Podgorica, known as Titograd – 1946-92. With just a
miniscule plain south of Podgorica, probably 80% of Montenegro is a mega-Snowdonia. Not surprising
really, “Montenegro” translating as “Black Mountain”.
Although not yet a member of the EU, the currency is the Euro. The language is Serbo-Croat, now
mainly written in the Latin alphabet, although Cyrillic co-exists. In Podgorica, most street names were
in the Latin alphabet, although a few still retained Cyrillic.
Despite being a small country, the rail network, past and present, of Montenegro has an absorbing
history. Standard-gauge railways did not arrive until 1959, before then the southern area being served
by three fragmented narrow-gauge lines, each of a different gauge. Although only eighteen
kilometres apart, the mountainous coastal terrain between Bar and Virpazar necessitated a sinuous
43-kms route, involving a spiral and a summit tunnel. A ferry between Virpazar and Plavnica, across
Lake Skadar, enabled a tedious link between Bar and Podgorica.
Post-WW2 there was an urgent need to create an Adriatic rail outlet, serving the interior of
Yugoslavia, particularly Beograd. A standard gauge railway was conceived, which took ages to
materialise, mainly owing to the mountainous terrain which needed to be traversed. Although the
Podgorica to Bar line was opened in 1959, resulting in the closure of the low-capacity narrow-gauge
lines and the intermediate ferry, it was not until 1976 that the Beograd to Bar line was completed.
The chronological development:
Opened Gauge Kms Closed
1908 Bar - Virpazar 750 mm 43 1959
1927 22 1959
1938 Podgorica - Plavnica 600 mm 71 1965 Rebuilt WW1 military railway
1948 56 1965 - Upgraded to 1435 mm
1959 Bileca - Nikšić 760 mm 50
1986 Podgorica - Nikšić 760 mm 25
Bar - Podgorica 1435 mm
Podgorica - Serbia Border 1435 mm
Podgorica – Albania Border 1435 mm
The Bileca to Nikšić line was the extreme tentacle of the Narenta/Dalmatian 760-mm network, which
extended southward from Sarajevo. Not listed above was another tentacle which served Zelenika,
now within Montenegro, from 1910 until 1976.
Full details about the development of the rail network can be found in Keith Chester’s “The Railways
of Montenegro - The Quest for a Trans-Balkan Railway”, published in 2016. The January 2017 issue of
Todays Railways Europe includes a feature article on the Beograd-Bar line.
The railways of Montenegro, then and now
The Podgorica ticket office has a good timetable display, provided that you are
three metres tall!
Thursday 5 October 2017
The morning of the first full day was spent exploring the rail facilities at Podgorica. A poster of the
public timetable was on display in the rather dingy booking hall, placed at a height suitable for persons
three metres tall! Your correspondent never spotted one placed at a height for “normals”.
Podgorica - the main station building and control tower
Both the first and second days were blessed with “short-sleeve shirt” weather, yielding good photo
opportunities. Passenger services are operated by Željeznički prevoz Crne Gore (ŽPCG), with
Montecargo handling rail-borne freight. With both companies, the prime motive power is provided
by Class 461 Co-Co electric locomotives. These machines, prolific in the Balkan countries, were built
under license in Romania to a Swedish ASEA design. ŽPCG has a fleet of ten Class 461, plus
Montecargo owning eight. Not all are in active service. ŽPCG also owns a small miscellany of diesel
locos, most in inoperable condition. Four Class 644 diesel Co-Co locomotives are also in active service
with Montecargo, built c.1973 by Macosa in Spain, under a General Motors licence.
During the visit to Podgorica station, a modern CAF Class 6111 EMU arrived from Nikšić and a more
ancient Riga-built Class 412 EMU arrived from Bijelo Polje.
All three through platforms are occupied at Podgorica. A 2013-built CAF Class 6111 and a decrepit Riga-built Class
412 EMUs flank Montecargo 644.007
Later a bauxite train arrived from Nikšić, then the overnight Beograd to Bar sleeper, running fifty
minutes late. Together with the daytime train, there are now only two long-distance Beograd-Bar
trains per day, a shadow of the passenger activity in the mid-1980's. A deteriorating infrastructure
has considerably extended the end-to-end running times, the day train now taking twelve hours,
against eight hours in prime days.
During the morning of the first day, the party split into groups of ten for escorted visits to the depot
and the control tower. Quite a challenge, climbing the flights of stairs to the latter, but well worth the
The Podgorica control tower awaits the next batch of PTG visitors
The Podgorica control panel, soon to be eclipsed by electronic screens in an adjacent room
The existing panel is purely for local control. It will soon be superseded by an electronically-based
system, monitors for which were running under test in an adjacent room.
The timetable graph, adjacent to the panel, gave an opportunity to summarise the passenger
• A daytime and an overnight Bar to Beograd service in each direction, with four intermediate
advertised calls south of Bijelo Polje.
• Eight all-stations services each way between Podgorica and Bar, two of which are loco-hauled
(see next entry).
• Three all-stations services each way between Podgorica and Bijelo Polje, two being loco-
hauled and operating end-to-end on the Bar-Bijelo Polje main line.
• Five round trips on the Nikšić branch, all EMU operated.
Although advertised as a through service, the 9.30 Bijelo Polje to Bar has a 62-minute lay-over at
Podgorica. In theory, the Nikšić service is self-contained and can be covered by a single dedicated
EMU. In practice, the diagrams appear to involve interworking to/from Bar.
From the control tower, a wide panorama sweeps round from the Bar direction, past the maintenance
facility, then northward towards the mountains, through which the Beograd line penetrates. Although
a scissors-junction takes place in the north throat, the Nikšić branch runs parallel to the main line for
over two kilometres before diverging.
The view towards Bar from the Podgorica control tower, with the loco/C&W maintenance facilities top-centre
Looking northward from the tower, after the scissors crossovers the Nikšić and the Bijelo Polje routes run parallel
for over two kilometres before diverging
Towards the south end of the main platform, 0-8-0T Lovćen is on display. This was built in 1910 by
Orenstein & Koppel for the 750-mm Bar to Virpazar line, known as the Antivari Railway.
Former Antivari Railway 0-8-0T Lovćen on display at Podgorica, built in 1910 by Orenstein & Koppel
for the 750-mm Bar to Virpazar line
En route across the tracks to the loco depot, there was a good view in both directions of the main
line. Other than a few Class 461 electrics and Class 644 diesels, the main occupants of the depot yard
were a hotchpotch of junk, doomed at some future stage for the scrap yard.
A bonus was the passing at good speed of the southbound car carrier from the Fiat factory at
Kragujevac in Serbia, en route for export via Bar.
The first rail journey was on the 13:00 Podgorica to Bar, nominally a through train from Bijelo Polje,
with a 62-minute layover. Never discovered whether there were any end-to-end passengers, who
would suffer thirty-one intermediate stops! Class 461.039 headed four coaches, the leading vehicle
being added for the PTG group. South of Podgorica, the main line is flanked on either side by two
freight-only lines, the junctions being at the south throat of the station. After 1.5 kms the westerly
track diverges to the aluminium smelter. After a further two kilometres, the line to the Albanian
border curves away to the east.
The first port-of call was Aerodrom, a very spartan facility. Despite the uninspiring ambience, there
were several boarders. The airport lies just over 500 metres away.
The first "station" south of Podgorica serves the main airport. A handful of punters joined the Bar-bound train
Throughout the journey, several level-crossings involved a stop-and-proceed formality, despite
appearing to be protected by barriers. No wonder the Beograd to Bar transit now takes four more
hours than during the glory days.
The 12:15 ex-Bar EMU was waiting at Golubovci. Crossing loops also exit at Zeta, Virpazar and
Sutomore. A narrow neck of Lake Skadar is crossed by a causeway and a low 200-metres viaduct, both
shared with the main road. A northbound empty bauxite train was occupying the through track at
Virpazar. Just over four kilometres beyond Virpazar, the line dives into the 6170-metres Sozina
Tunnel, taking nearly ten minutes for its transit. Way above, the 750-mm Antivari Railway once made
its meandering course, the mountainous terrain necessitating the construction of the 1260-metres
Sutorman Tunnel at a summit altitude of 660 metres.
Soon after exiting the southern portal of the tunnel, the train called at Sutomore station. Bar was
eventually reached twelve minutes late, a northbound freight departing immediately after our arrival.
Yet another opportunity to visit a signal control tower (and more step-climbing!). At the south end of
the station, tracks lead to a depot and beyond to the port – the latter off-limits for any explorations.
As at Podgorica, one of the original Antivari Railway locomotives is on display. This being 2-4-4-0T
Sutorman, plus a van, both in a more pristine condition than the relics at Podgorica.
Quite an attractive station frontage, enhanced by palm trees. There are ramps for loading cars onto
the car-carrier vehicle, which will be attached to the overnight Beograd sleeper.
Unfortunately, as evidenced on some coaches, the graffiti menace has reached Montenegro. With
the shorefront slightly distant from Bar station, most of the group opted for a short hop on the return
train as far as nearby Sutomore, where the station is reasonably close to the seafront.
Just a fourteen-minute run, with an intermediate stop at Šušanj, before reaching Sutomore. Quite a
few football supporters were aboard the train, heading to Podgorica for the final match in Group E of
the World Cup Qualifying round, with Montenegro at home to Denmark. Not sure that the fans would
have been so jubilant on their return journey, Montenegro losing 0-1, putting paid to any further
Several flights of steps need to be navigated to reach the shorefront, where quite a few sun-
worshippers were on the beach. The tip of Bar Port could be seen across the bay, about six kilometres
away. Our main priority was to find a bar with draft Nikšić beer, a mission successfully fulfilled. Then
the climb of the 190-plus steps back to the station. Together with the ascents of the control towers
at Podgorica and Bar, fitness was a necessity for Day One.
A Bar-bound freight was awaiting the arrival of the Beograd overnight train, boarded by the PTG group
for the final day’s journey to Podgorica. Slow speed on the initial section of Sozina Tunnel, before a
mid-tunnel speed-up. A crossing move with a Bar-bound EMU took place at Virpazar.
Although advertised as being non-stop to Podgorica, calls were made at Virpazar, Zeta and Golubovci
– passengers detraining at each stop. Together with stop-and-proceed at mid-section level-crossings,
plus a 20 kph temporary speed restriction, Podgorica was reached ten minutes late. Beograd-bound
passengers still had at least another fourteen hours of travel!
Friday 6 October 2017
The formal programme for the second day of the railtour just involved a round-trip to Nikšić. For the
benefit of the PTG group, the first out-and-back working from Podgorica was covered by a loco-hauled
train, rather than a conventional EMU. Class 461.039 was once again at the helm of a four-coach 8:05
departure, as with the previous day’s ride to Bar, the formation including a dedicated PTG coach.
After running alongside the main Beograd line for three kilometres, the Nikšić branch diverges in a
north-western direction. A further two kilometres onward, the Morača is crossed. Immediately
afterwards, the extensive Roman ruins at Duklja (classically known as Doclea) lie on the north side.
The Podgorica to Nikšić line was opened in 1948, originally a 760-mm extension of the Dalmatian
network. In 1965 the line was regauged to 1435-mm. During the Yugoslavian turmoil, the condition
of the track deteriorated, resulting in the withdrawal of passenger services in 1992. Freight traffic,
including bauxite from the mine at Nikšić, continued to operate, albeit at a very restricted speed.
Reconstruction and electrification was initiated in 2006, but not completed until 2012. The
refurbishment included the provision of three CAF Civity EMUs. In reality, the timetable only requires
a single set, only one passenger train being present at any specific time.
Crossing loops exist at three intermediate stations – Spuž (9 kms), Danilovgrad (22 kms) and Ostrog
(39 kms). The last-mentioned is close to a monastery, unfortunately not visible from the railway.
There are also seven advertised halts. No crossing moves took place on the outward journey, but
Montecargo 461.042 on a Nikšić-bound bauxite empties was crossed at Danilovgrad on the return
journey. Until just beyond Danilovgrad, the railway runs close to the north bank of the River Zeta,
before making a wide S-shaped sweep to start the prolonged climb, involving eleven tunnels. The final
one, Budoš Tunnel approaching Nikšić, is the longest at 1260-metres.
The old road keeps to the valley bottom, making a serpentine climb at the head of the valley. On the
south bank, a new main road mirrors the railway on the north bank, likewise gradually gaining height.
Quite an extensive panorama. Oh, for a traditional mid-section PTG photo-stop! Approaching Nikšić,
a non-electrified line serving the bauxite mine trails on the north side. The headlights of a diesel loco
could be seen, soon transpiring to be 644.013 heading a loaded bauxite train into the exchange sidings
adjacent to the station.
Nikšić, 56 kilometres from Podgorica, lies at an altitude of 637 metres, mostly gained since leaving
Danilovgrad. There is a steel mill in Nikšić, now Turkish-owned. Although once rail-served, exploration
of GoogleMaps reveals overgrown out-of-use tracks (42.7749, 18.9723).
The fine station building at Nikšić
Nikšić is also the home of its namesake beer. Alas, no time to set-off in search of a brewery-tap, the
booked turn-round being just fourteen minutes. Not being on the regular EMU, the PTG group did
however have the rarity of observing a run-round move.
After a relaxing return to Podgorica, during a brief stroll around the station, judging by the exterior of
a Riga-built EMU, it was soon evident that the abundantly-staffed railway police were not being
successful in eliminating graffiti.
Saturday 7 October 2017
The rail itinerary for the final day was the one with the greatest anticipation, heading northward along
the Beograd main line to the last station in Montenegro at Bijelo Polje. After two “short-sleeve shirt”
days, the weather had escalated downhill. Exiting the hotel after collecting breakfast-packs at 06.00,
the group headed out into the dark on a wild, wet and windy morning. Fortunately, only a short trek
to the station, there sheltering pending the arrival of the 5.10 ex-Bar, advertised all-stations to Bijelo
Polje, with thirty-intermediate stops, mostly trivial halts.
Daylight was now breaking as the train followed the Morača River. The ramp begins at Bioče, fifteen
kilometres from Podgorica. In the next forty-five kilometres the line will climb to a 1032-metres
summit, the gradient often reaching 1-in-40. The initial climb is reminiscent of that of the Lötschberg
as it leaves Brig, rising gradually on a man-made ledge on the valley wall. Ten kilometres beyond
Bioče, the Morača veers sharply left, the railway initially following the straight-ahead Mala Rijeka
tributary. A few kilometres further, the railway takes a left-turn to cross the Mala Rijeka valley – on a
massive viaduct 198 metres (660 ft) high. Until usurped by a new viaduct in China, this was the highest
railway viaduct in the World. A dramatic experience, with spasmodic sightings of the viaduct before
taking a sharp curve to lead over it. Looking southward from the viaduct, the line back towards
Podgorica can be seen on a ledge interspersed with short tunnels.
Without a train crossing, it is hard to assimilate the vast height of the Mala Rijeka Viaduct, at 198 metres the highest
railway viaduct in Europe. Fortunately a 90º turn approaching the viaduct yields an awesome view.
It's a long drop to the river bed! At top left, the corniche alignment of the line to Podgorica is clearly discernible
In the brief gap between the viaduct and a tunnel, a flagman stands on duty at the Podkrs outpost
Although just a spot transition from viaduct to tunnel, at Podkrš, immediately after the viaduct, a
flagman was on duty. Podkrš is not even a halt, probably only accessible by a set-down stop. What an
existence! There are countless tunnels, mostly short, but before Bijelo Polje lengthy ones exist at
Trebešica (5122 m), Ostrovica (3827 m) and Mojkovac (3243 m). In the 49-kms between Bioče and
Kolašin, 56% of the route is in tunnel. Overall, during the 158 kilometres between Bar and Bijelo Polje,
there are 31 tunnels.
Meanwhile, deep below the main road keeps to the floor of the Morača valley, at a later stage making
a steep climb to reach Kolašin. Soon, light snow showers were experienced, quickly becoming heavier,
with snow laying thick on the ground. The 6:40 Bijelo Polje to Podgorica EMU was crossed at Kos, the
first southbound passenger train of the day. In total there are ten intermediate crossing loops, most
at insignificant locations.
The remote Padež halt lies immediately beyond the 1032-metres summit. Not too much passenger
Kolašin is the most important intermediate station, where contractor locomotives 647.007 (blue) and
647.005 (yellow) were stabled on engineering trains. Plenty of snow-laden views followed on the final
leg to Bijelo Polje.
With poor light, few photos were taken on the outward journey, but much more suitable on the return
leg. To emphasise the drama of the outward journey, the attached images are shown in geographical
order from Podgorica.
Bijelo Polje, the border station in Montenegro, was reached fifteen minutes late after a fascinating
journey from Podgorica. Running just over an hour late, the southbound overnight sleeper was
waiting to depart, headed by ŽPCG 461.029. All trains change locomotives at Bijelo Polje, a Serbian
Class 441 Bo-Bo having been released from the overnight train. Despite the different wheel
arrangement, the Class 441 has the same ASEA-based pedigree as the Class 461 fleet.
Judging by the claret-and-blue livery of the platform roof supports, it would appear that Bijelo Polje
is twinned with West Ham!
Although no longer a season-ticket holder, but still a loyal West Ham follower, your correspondent was
delighted to encounter the Claret and Blue décor of Bijelo Polje station
Despite slushy conditions underfoot, there was just enough time for a quick exploration of the station
forefront before heading back to the main platform.
After running-round, our faithful 461.039 awaits departure at Bijelo Polje. Great care was needed to wend
back along the frozen platform to the relative warmth of the dedicated PTG coach
Immediately before our departure, a southbound car-carrier arrived from the Fiat plant in Serbia.
Barely five minutes after leaving Bijelo Polje, owing to temporary loss of power from the OLE, a
twenty-minute wait took place at Lješnica, just a platform on plain single track. The four-coach 7:10
Bar-Beograd was crossed at Mijatovo Kolo, already running about thirty minutes late. A few
passengers alighted at Kolašin, but no boarders.
As on the outward journey, a brief stop was made alongside the flagman at Podkrš, before proceeding
across the Mala Rijeka viaduct. Since returning home, your correspondent has discovered via
GoogleMaps that there is an access track to this remote workplace (42.5529, 19.3843). Nevertheless,
it is more likely that the flagman arrives by train.
The foot of the descent was safely reached at Bioče. In the past there have been at least two fatal
derailments on the descent. One, in 1979, involved a freight train, with the locomotives falling several
hundred metres into the valley. Allegedly, they are still there! In 2006, a double-set EMU ran-away
and derailed following a brake failure, resulting in 43 passenger fatalities.
A few minutes later, the final journey ended at Podgorica, reached just over thirty minutes late.
After a lazy afternoon, a pre-dinner pilgrimage was made to witness the Bar to Beograd overnight
making its Podgorica call. Quite good business in terms of boarders. The top deck of the car carrier
was fully laden with five cars, plus one on the lower deck. The only car-loading point is at Bar, no such
facility at Podgorica.
Despite not involving the PTG tradition of travelling in a dedicated charter train, the mini-tour of
Montenegro on public services was well worthwhile. Despite its modest network, it has a railway with
a distinctive character, dominated by the powerful Class 461 passenger and freight locomotive fleet.