A grimy three-car train pulled out of Belgrade’s railway station Sunday on the first direct trip to Sarajevo in nearly 18 years, restoring a link broken at the start of ethnic warfare in the former Yugoslavia
Branko Rogosic, 43-year-old Belgrade lawyer, was one of 17 passengers who boarded the drab-looking train. Only nine were planning the journey all the way to Sarajevo.
“It is a very special event to make this connection again,” he said.
Its windows smeared and seats shabby and old, the train looked nothing like its old self, when it was called the Olympic Express and hailed as the pride of the Communist-run nation.
The 1980s Belgrade-Sarajevo line was the most modern transportation line in the country. The train was redecorated for the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo with a red carpet and stewardesses, and its carriages were packed with skiers, businesspeople or youth.
“It was the best train in Yugoslavia, I loved it,” said 41-year-old translator Slavica Nikolic from Belgrade, who frequently took the Olympic Express in the past.
During Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, Serbia’s nationalist leadership armed and supported a Bosnian Serb deadly three-year siege of Sarajevo which killed thousands of its residents.
The war saw both cities change dramatically, with their once travel-loving middle classes growing impoverished, educated youths fleeing and refugees pouring in.
The train will cross two borders in more than eight hours and is itself is divided along ethnic lines: one carriage belongs to the Bosnian Serb railway, one is from Serbia and the third one was provided by the Sarajevo railway authorities.
The Bosnian Serb carriage is to be disconnected at the Serb territory in Bosnia, before reaching Sarajevo.
Railway officials said they hope the line will attract more people during upcoming winter holidays. They said the ticket price of C31 ($45) for the approximately 500-kilometre (310-mile) journey to Bosnia-Herzegovina is less than the cost of driving.
“I am proud to do this,” said engine driver Dusan Bosnjakovic, 54.