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Most visitors will not be getting around Croatia by train as there are few links between popular tourist destinations and no trains that run along the coast. Built under Austrian rule, the railway network was intended to get goods, products and passengers in and out of Croatia which is why train lines run from the north through Zagreb, the agricultural interior and down to the major ports of Rijeka and Split. The only rail routes that make sense for coastal-bound travellers are the Zagreb to Rijeka and Zagreb to Split routes.
For decades the focus of government investment has been in improving roads while the railways gradually slipped into disrepair. A great deal of work needed to be done on the infrastructure which little by little is now starting to happen.
The investment that has been made in the railway system has mainly gone into improving the interior lines that link Varazdin, Koprivinica, Sisak and Sunja with Zagreb which is where you'll find the fastest, most modern trains. 44 new trains have been ordered, one of which went into service in April 2015, linking Zagreb with Koprivnica, Sisak and Sunja.
Nevertheless, trains offer a safe and comfortable but much slower alternative to bus travel. Cyclists should note that transport of bikes is permitted on most lines, including Zagreb-Zadar-Split and Zagreb-Rijeka.
Here are the major train lines :
Zagreb to Karlovac
There are over a dozen trains that run the 40-minute route. Two daily trains connect to Knin where it's possible to find a bus to Zadar but a Zagreb-Zadar bus is much faster.
Zagreb to Split
Again, the buses are much faster, taking about 4 1/2 hours to the train's 6 1/2 hours, but there are two daily trains--morning and afternoon that make the journey all year round. There's an extra couple of trains in summer, including an overnight train which can be convenient for arriving in Split early enough to take a ferry out to the islands.
Zagreb to Zadar
Most people take the bus as it's much faster but the overnight train from Zagreb that goes on to Split can also be convenient.
There are no trains to Dubrovnik or any trains that run along the coast.
Croatian Railways has recently implemented online booking (finally!) It's easy to browse the train schedules and book with your credit card. You can also reserve and buy your train tickets from any train station in Croatia and pay using kuna. In the larger stations you can also pay with any major credit card.
There are several different classes of train travel with the cheapest being passenger trains which offer unreserved 2nd-class seating. Express trains have 1st and 2nd class cars.
I've booked the sleeping car from Zagreb to Split and found it a relatively comfortable experience. Naturally, the compartments are not spacious but there is a sink, soap, a bottle of water and a croissant to go with the coffee that is served in the morning. Towels are not included, toilets are shared and there is no air-conditioning and no dining car.
Last Updated September 13, 2016
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