Updated: Apr 12, 2020
One of the ultimate Yugo-experiences in Belgrade is to hop aboard Tito's famous Blue Train and poke around its many phenomenal compartments and elegantly decorated rooms. And with few tourists making this trek to the far south edge of the city, you will have the whole fabulous train to yourself!
Tucked away in an unassuming railyard garage in the Belgrade neighborhood of Topčider is the most famous train of the Yugoslav-era — Josip Broz Tito’s private luxury train, commonly known as “Tito’s Blue Train” or "The Blue Miracle". Yesterday I visited the train and was extremely impressed with what I found while strolling through its wondrous compartments. I will share with you here the photographs I took while on board and the fascinating history about the train which I learned along the way.
While the practice of Yugoslav Railways operating a special train for Tito began as early as 1946, a built-to-suit train for President Tito was created in 1959. This train that was created for Tito, which he specifically requested to be painted blue, was unlike almost any train of the era. President Tito had a fear of flying, so, instead of creating an "Airforce One" style jet to take him around his country, he had created for him a presidential train which could shuttle him around his country as needed, but with the ability to do so in the highest level of luxury, connectivity and technology. The train was equipped with air-conditioning, a movie projector, TVs, telephone & radio services, a conference room, various bedrooms, and many other features unheard of in even the fanciest trains of the era. Some sources even consider it the most luxurious and technically advanced train in the world at the time. However, such over-the-top amenities can be understood better when considering that the train was essentially meant to be Tito's “Presidential residence on wheels”.
The furnishing of the train is quite unique and stands as a playful testament to Tito's unique personal tastes. While the Yugoslav president was not the biggest fan of modernist architecture and design (which were all the rage during the country's 'Golden Era'), it is not surprising then that the train’s decoration veers away from such design elements. Yet, its interior decor still manages to take on an atmosphere that combines both Tito's traditional tastes, but peppered with a flair of retro-styling as well as hints of aesthetics of the 50s/60s era, along with a heaping handful of art-deco flourishes (of which Tito was a fan). Furthermore, sources describe that Tito chose a specific design scheme for each section of the train in the styles of Swedish, American and English. These are accented by elegantly wood mosaic art works, rich walnut paneling, reams of fine velvet and silk, hand-crafted mahogany furniture, and, most impressively, a long 28 person banquet table.
One attribute of the luxuriousness of this train is that it ended up weighing almost double the weight of a standard train. This reduced its speed to a lumbering 80-100km/hr compared to the normal 140km/hr most Yugoslav trains of that era traveled. In addition, its weight required that special heavy-duty double brakes be installed to slow it down. These were especially important on the train’s travel over the Montenegrin mountains during the busy Bar-to-Belgrade route. Sources describe the brakes getting so hot after descending the mountains that they could be seen visibly glowing red as the train pulled into the station at Bar. The train itself was pulled by four blue diesel locomotives, each named after one of the famous Yugoslav battles of WWII: Kozara, Sutjeska, Dinara and Neretva.
When in full operation, the train contained 19 wagons, of which included a private en-suite bedroom wagon for Tito and his wife Jovanka, lounges, an honored-guest carriage, sleeper cars for over 90 people, a restaurant, a bar, kitchens, among other specialty cars. A specific train car even existed for the storage of Tito’s personal Mercedes so he could utilize it wherever he went. However, among the most mythical rooms aboard the train is a small lounge located directly behind Tito’s bedroom which was known as the “Deaf Room”. This aptly named compartment was a specifically engineered space meant to prevent any sound from leaving the room, which could allow Tito to ensure complete privacy when engaging in high-level talks with other politicians and statesmen.
As Tito was quite proud of his train and the technical achievement for Yugoslavia it symbolized, he not surprisingly enjoyed hosting fellow world leaders on it, among whom include the Queen of England, USSR leader Leonid Brezhnev, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, Romanian communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu, among others. Tito so much enjoyed entertaining world leaders aboard the train that he even went to the trouble trying to woo French president Charles De Gaulle to spend time with him aboard the train by building him a special sleeper car, however, De Gaulle was never able to take up the invitation.
Throughout its life, the train transported Tito over 600,000 kilometers across Yugoslavia (as well as across Europe). However, its last trip carrying Tito was transporting him in his coffin on a memorial tour across the country from Ljubljana to Belgrade in May of 1980. Tens of thousands of well-wishers lined the track as he passed to say goodbye and to see the train carrying its leader one last time, while every station was decorated with bouquets of flowers and dozens of his portraits. After this farewell journey, the train was only used on a few special occasions. Interestingly, one of these occasions for which the train was used was for shuttling Slobodan Milošević to Gamizestan in 1989 where he gave his infamous speech during the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo Fields.
The train sat largely unused for many years, operating almost as a time capsule, sitting static while the world around it changed. However, in 2005 the train was refurbished and soon thereafter opened to the public as a museum-like experience. In addition, there have occasionally been special events over the years where the train will take trips to Užice or Bar for touristic excursions. Today, it exists in very good condition almost exactly as it appeared when Tito last rode it, and while it has seen a few brief spurts of popularity over the years as the result of media attention, as of 2020, it only receives the rare occasional tourist. While many world leaders throughout history have had their personal means of conveyance, be it limos, airplanes or helicopters, Tito's Blue Train stands as a unique historical artifact not only for its pristine condition and original intact presentation, but also in the fact that it is freely open for the public to tour and experience.
How to Visit Tito's Blue Train
Firstly, in order to visit the train, you will need to travel to Topčider train station just south of the city center of Belgrade (which can be reached by the #3 tram from Slavija Square). Go to the ticket office of Topčider station and ask for a ticket for Tito’s Blue Train (Plavi voz). Individual tickets cost 300 Serbian dinar (about 2.50 euro), but there are discounts for groups of ten or more. Then, head about 2km south to a railyard garage across the street from the Rasadnik tram stop (also along the #3 tram line) [exact coordinates]. When you arrive at the garage, you won’t find any real proper ticket agent or admissions desk, so, just search around until you find a worker and they should direct you to the tour guide on duty. The guides I have found here do not speak much English, but they will happily take you around the train, gesturing towards interesting things here and there. They will also happily take photos of you sitting in all of Tito’s most famous chairs and locations. The train is sometimes not accessible or rented for special events, so, it is helpful to contact the Blue Train’s staff before visiting to ensure the train will be available upon your arrival. Contact can be made via the following means: firstname.lastname@example.org or at the telephone number: +381 11 3616 811.