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Reseau ferroviaire en Serbie
The modernization program of Serbia’s railway sector supported by AFD and the World Bank will strengthen Serbia’s integration within European railway ecosystem and improve the service quality for passengers. An ambitious project serving ecological transition.

In Belgrade, the massive Prokop train station is a microcosm for commuter life. As travellers rush to waiting trains, the stationmaster blows the whistle to announce the departure for Ovca, a suburban settlement of Belgrade. The journey provides a glimpse of the “BGvoz” line. It will soon be renovated as part of the railway sector modernization project launched by the Serbian government. The first phase of the program that spans 10 years is funded to the tune of €102 million by AFD and the World Bank. 

Serbia photo report
Between Ovca and Prokop station in Belgrade


“Following the break-up of Former Yugoslavia, the rail transport usage has declined in the region” says Dominique Hautbergue, AFD's Director of the Western Balkans Regional Office. Since then, this project is among the investments supported by various partners, in particular the European Union, in order to redevelop the rail corridor within the Balkan region. “The idea is to make the Prokop Station the region's central hub,” he adds. 

Improving the efficiency of the railway sector

Serbia is on a major communications route in Europe, at the center of a corridor linking Greece to Austria. The railway transport potential is important both for freight and passenger transport, but it is hampered by investment delays affecting the network’s performance and services offered to passengers. This prompted a number of reforms to renew the sector.

In 2015, the unique and historic railway company of Serbian Railways was split into four state-owned railway companies under the authority of the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure. One of them, Infrastruktura Zeleznice Srbije (IZS), is in charge of the infrastructure management, and is supported by AFD and World Bank to redevelop Prokop station.  With the support of this company and its partner Srbija Voz (in charge of passenger transportation) the Serbian railway company will improve the quality and frequency of its services. 

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A new train in Prokop station.

“At first this requires a renovation of the suburban transport line and securing all freight and passenger convoys. The project aims to cover all the most critical points of the rail network, such as the restoration of 700 level crossings in order to improve the railway safety by reducing accident risk on the network” explains Dominique Hautbergue.

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700 level crossings will be renovated to improve network safety and reduce the number of accidents

This is an observation shared by an employee of Srbija Voz, who knows the network well. “Over time, the infrastructure has deteriorated,” he says. He is hopeful the modernization program of the network will allow the installation of new signaling equipment that will make traffic to flow more smoothly, especially when approaching level crossings.

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Sasa Rancic, train driver for 32 years.


Promoting sustainable urban mobility 

By making investments in suburban service issues a priority, the program helps improve sustainable urban mobility. The benefits are expected to extend to the environment. “Our government intends to change traffic and reduce the use of roads by increasing the use of trains," says Nebojsa Surlan, Director of the railway infrastructure management company IZS. "Until now, €2 billion has been invested and the government plans to invest another €4 billion in the next five years, which proves the will of the state to modernize the rail network, to make it faster and to reduce pollution.” 

The goal is to reduce particle emissions and improve air quality in Belgrade, which suffers from intense atmospheric pollution episodes. 

Serbia photo report
The Station Master in Prokop

The director continues his tour of Prokop station and shows the access ramps, lifts and other areas where the escalators will be installed to facilitate access for people with reduced mobility. The aim is to make this station more inclusive, as well as a safer place for women.

With this project which started in September 2021, AFD is supporting Serbia in its transition from individual motorized transport to public transport, as emphasized by Dominique Hautbergue. “This station is also an opportunity to revitalize neighborhoods, to develop a global transport plan by integrating the future metro, tram, bus lines etc. It’s a whole mobility scheme that is being targeted through these various developments,” he says.

Serbia photo report
The renovation of Prokop station will help revitalize the area.

Photos by Marie Tihon

Further reading