Don’t Blame the War: the Demise of Croatian Railways Connectivity

Paul Bradbury

January 25, 2024 – Croatian Railways are often the butt of jokes for their slow trains and late arrivals, but take a closer look at another disturbing trend – their connectivity.

I love train travel.

Especially slow train travel.

I think my love has its roots in that carefree Interrail of 1988, a month all over Europe, cemented for sure in the pre and post-Soviet Union, with those romantic overnight trains from Moscow to St. Petersburg, and that 56-hour marathon from St. Petersburg to Crimea – when such journeys were possible.

Living for 13 years on a Dalmatian island which did not have a traffic light, never mind a train station, limited my train consumption to the Split to Zagreb run, but as I start a new project street vlogging from around Croatia, my interest in trains has resurfaced.

I decided to start documenting travelling around Croatia on public transport on my vlog, starting with Zagreb to Osijek by bus and back by train (you can watch the video below).

Imagine my interest when I learned from my social media that officially the slowest passenger train in the EU in 2023 – at an average speed of just 25.54 km/h was from Osijek to Erdut. I had to document it, and document it I did – see below, and big spoiler alert: the Erdut Express is no longer the slowest train in the EU, it has been overtaken by another route in 2024… in Croatia. Stay tuned, an epic vlog awaits from that route.

And the more I posted on social media, the more the comments got me intrigued, as people shared their experiences. I had always assumed that the reason Croatian Railways were so bad was due to the Homeland War, which finished almost 30 years ago in 1995. As well as underinvestment, as Croatia made the strategic decision to build highways.

But the more I listened to people, the more I became aware of one other trend which started long after the war finished – international connectivity. I moved here permanently in 2003, and here are some international connections I took after moving here, which are no longer available:

Zagreb – Sarajevo

Zagreb – Belgrade

Ploce – Sarajevo

And I also learned of the train from Osijek to Budapest 15 years ago – locals tell me that there is not even a direct bus connecting Osijek to the centre of Budapest directly. The year is 2024.

Apart from the obvious question – WHY? – it got me wondering what international connections Croatian Railways does have, even more so after the report from Austria that Austrian Railways were downgrading their Zagreb connectivity due – at least in part – to frustrations with constant delays in Croatia. Here is what I found on the official Croatian Railways international timetable PDF (remember the year is 2024, the era of sustainable travel):

Zagreb – Graz – (5 hours 17 mins) – by car, 2 hours 22 mins, according to Google Maps.
Zagreb – Budapest – (7 hours 47 mins) – by car, 3 hours 35 mins.
Vinkovci – Villach
Zagreb – Villach (3 hours 49 mins) – by car, 2 hours 44 mins.
Zagreb – Zurich (13 hours 42 mins) – by car, 9 hours 39 mins.
Zagreb – Stuttgart (13 hours 0 mins) – 8 hours 40 mins
Rijeka – Ljubljana (2 hours 45 mins)
Rijeka – Budapest (14 hours 2 mins)

There are also a couple of local Istrian lines which pass through Slovenia:
Pula – Buzet – Divaca
Rijeka – Villa Opicina – Pula

I think I am right in saying that there is still a train from Zagreb to Ljubljana, even though it did not make the official PDF. Another commentator on my social media sent me a link to a very cool website where you can find out everywhere you can go by train in 8 hours from a destination. Here is what Zagreb looks like in the era of sustainable travel, 2024. Just three countries in 8 hours, two of which border Croatia. But the three other countries which border Croatia cannot be visited by train directly from Zagreb.

What is going on, and… Does anyone have a plan?


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