Cross-border rail service to Greece restored
Update (8 August 2012)
We understand that the cross-border train from Macedonia to Greece and return did not run last weekend. The reasons for this are unclear. Macedonian sources suggest that the service was cancelled by the Greek railway administration amid mutterings about the need to undertake some urgent work on the tracks. Greek sources naturally suggest that the Macedonians cancelled the train. Such is life in the south Balkan region. We would appreciate further updates from travellers in the area. Meanwhile, those inclined to use this service in the upcoming period would be well advised to keep an eye on local media.
Mid-morning today, a train arrived at Thessaloniki station from Skopje in the Republic of Macedonia. Nothing of great note, you might suggest. But actually this is the first scheduled international passenger train to arrive in Greece since early last year. In 2011, the Greek government – as part of its financial austerity programme – cut all train services across the country’s international borders. Rail services to and from neighbouring Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey were all suspended.
That changed today with the reinstatement of the service from Skopje to Thessaloniki. But the cheers are muted. The train service has only been restored for a brief summer season and runs just once each week. The new timetable is valid just to the end of September, so that means a dozen trains in each direction. Better than nothing, to be sure, but in our view still pitiful.
The timings are as follows:
Southbound on Saturday mornings
Northbound on Sunday evenings
The arrival and departure times shown for Thessaloniki are in Greek time, which is one hour in advance of the prevailing time in the Republic of Macedonia. The journey thus takes about four hours in each direction.
It is worth noting that, within the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Greek city of Thessaloniki is universally referred to as Solun.
The Skopje to Thessaloniki journey forms the final part of Route 43 in Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers. The full route is from Belgrade to Thessaloniki. The route we describe in the book includes an optional sidetrack to Kosovo (using the Skopje to Pristina rail service).
The timetable of this new Skopje to Thessaloniki service seems to have been designed to discourage long-distance travellers. The southbound service leaves Skopje before the overnight train from Belgrade arrives. Similarly, the northbound train on Sunday evenings arrives into Skopje after the northbound overnight service to Belgrade has left.