Trip to North Macedonia - March 2023

General Notes

I had "cleared" Macedonia's present passenger track back in 2010, and not even passed through since 2018 - since when the country has been renamed to "Republic of North Macedonia" (previously it had been the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). After years of planning and construction delays the rebuilt line from Bitola over the border to Florina in Greece was finished a year or so ago but a service only started on 1st February 2023 - and only for the 11 km run to Žabeni - the Greeks have still not yet approved any international running. Having said that, neither Greece nor North Macedonia has any international passenger services anyway at this time, partly due to Covid and partly due to lack of suitable serviceable rolling stock. Study of the timetable shows that the service to Žabeni is simply an extension of one return working from Skopje, so it has just the one return journey. Out and back from Skopje to Žabeni takes nearly 10 hours, and I've been to Bitola several times before.So a plan was hatched to do a repeat of what I did in 2014 and have a hire car for a couple of days to do some exploring: this fitted in well with the useful flights from the UK running to Skopje on alternate days.

Operating Company Abbreviations

  • ŽRSMT - Železnici na Republika Severna Makedonija Transport - Railways of the Republic of North Macedonia Transport

Track gauge

Standard gauge (1435 mm).

Place Arrive Depart Train Traction details & notes

Tuesday 28th March 2023

Timperley   09:01   Manchester tram 3028+3049
St Peters Square 09:23 09:25   Manchester tram 3079
(Manchester) Piccadilly 09:31 10:15   Avanti West Coast EMU 390008
Milton Keynes Central 11:53 12:25 'MK1' Stagecoach bus
Luton Airport bus station 13:32      
Luton Airport (LTN)   15:25 W9-7022 Wizzair G-WUKM A321-271NX; gate 30; delayed by late arrival of aircraft due in turn to an air traffic controller dispute in France): push-back at 18:45, take-off 18:56 from runway 25
Skopje Airport (SKP) 21:45 23:00   landed 22:29 on runway 16, on stand 202 22:35 - hire car from Europcar, Ford Focus
Skopje hotel 23:30      
Overnight: ibis Skopje City Centre (1st of 2 nights). Today's photos.
Home to Skopje via train to Milton Keynes, bus to Luton, WizzAir flight to Skopje then picking up a hire car.

Wednesday 29th March 2023

By car Skopje - view Šivec branch - Bitola
Bitola   10:30 iR641 ŽRSMT DMU 711-006/005 dep 75 late
Žabeni 10:39 11:00 iR642 ŽRSMT DMU 711-005/006 dep 64 late
Bitola 11:09     arr 67 late
By car Bitola - Krivari station - Kremenica - Kičevo station - Lakavica area - Gostivar - Skopje
New passenger track today: Bitola - Žabeni.
Overnight: ibis Skopje City Centre (2nd of 2 nights). Today's photos.
Drive to Bitola for the train to Žabeni and back; then driving via Kičevo back to Skopje.
Note regarding the Bitola <-> Žabeni train service: the only place I have found this advertised is on the Macedonian Railways Infrastructure Manager (Železnici na Republika Severna Makedonija Infrastruktura, ŽRSMI) website where a downloadable PDF file showing the full list of arrival and departures for Skopje can be found. This file had been updated to show the Žabeni workings after those started on 1st February 2023, but all of the printed posters at both Bitola and Skopje are older versions not showing the Žabeni trains. The train operator website has a poor quality list of trains which not only does not show the Žabeni workings, but also shows the train services to Kičevo and Kočani that the ŽRSMI PDF file correctly shows as "not running".
Note: these Žabeni workings were suspended with effect from 25th October 2023.

Thursday 30th March 2023

By car to the aqueduct north of Skopje; then exploring around the depot and yards around Skopje; then exploring the part-built Beljakovce line towards Bulgaria; then back to Skopje airport to drop off the hire car.
Skopje SKP   20:25 W9-7021 Wizzair flight G-WUKU A321-271NX) - push back from stand 204 20:23; take-off from runway 23 at 20:34
Luton LTN 22:45     landed on runway 25 at 22:38; on stand at 22:46
Overnight: ibis Hotel Luton Airport (1 night). Today's photos.

Friday 31st March 2023

Luton Airport bus station   09:40 'MK1' Stagecoach bus
Milton Keynes Central 10:40 11:24   arr 32 late due to traffic conditions - Avanti West Coast EMU 390047 delayed by trains 1U13 then 4V44
Manchester Piccadilly 13:05 13:18   arr 9 late - Metrolink tram 3055
Timperley  13:46     Today's photos.
Luton Airport to home via bus to Milton Keynes then train to Manchester.