In recent years Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) has invested heavily in infrastructure enhancements, and a number of key projects will be completed this year. Quadrupling of the Vienna - Linz line is nearing completion and the St Pölten bypass line will open in December. This leaves only the Kleinmünchen - Linz section, which is due to be completed next year.
The next step in the upgrading of the Western Railway will be to construct two additional tracks on the double-track Linz - Wels section. This is a bottleneck at present as frequent inter-city services to Salzburg compete for paths with freight trains heading towards Passau in Germany and regional trains around Linz.
At present new infrastructure construction is focused on the Southern Railway from Vienna to Carinthia. The 27km Semmering Base Tunnel and the 33km Koralm Tunnel are now under construction, while work is progressing on the new line from Graz to the Koralm tunnel. In Carinthia construction is well under way on the eastern section of the Koralm Line from the tunnel to Klagenfurt. The existing single-track line has been reconstructed on a new alignment on several sections, requiring extensive tunnelling. Two completely new passenger stations are being built at both ends of the Koralm tunnel near St Paul (Lavanttal station) and Gross St Florian (West Styria station). When it is completed in 2023, the Koralm railway together with the Semmering base tunnel will result in significant cuts in journey times between Vienna, Graz, Klagenfurt and Villach.
In the west of Austria, construction of the Brenner Base Tunnel is moving forward and by December 60km of the 230km tunnel system had been excavated.
Investment is also being made in rail freight facilities. The first phase of the Vienna South intermodal terminal at Inzersdorf opened in December and the reconstruction and expansion of Wolfurt intermodal terminal in the western province of Vorarlberg is due to be completed next year. This will help to meet the additional terminal infrastructure required to support growth in the Austrian intermodal freight market.
The overall picture for rail freight is less positive, and traffic has yet to recover to pre-2008 levels. As a key transit country, the rail freight market is largely dependent on the performance of neighbouring states. The wagonload network is still under pressure and suffering from the closure of industrial sidings in Austria and neighbouring countries. To compensate for these negative effects, the Austrian Ministry of Transport is planning to revise its subsidy scheme for wagonload traffic, which should help to insulate the sector from further decline.
Open-access operators have increased their share of the market every year since 2001 and this trend looks set to continue in 2017. New entrants have tended to focus on block trains along the Danube axis and over the Brenner Pass, but open-access operators are now increasing their presence on the route from Vienna to Graz and northern Italy.
With the start of the 2017 timetable on December 11, ÖBB launched its new Nightjet network of overnight trains, taking over a number of international services previously operated by German Rail (DB). Time will tell whether the concept of bundling various overnight services over some core sections improves their viability. ÖBB intends to withdraw most of its old sleeping cars this year and replace them with much newer coaches acquired from DB. ÖBB will also award contracts for new long-distance and freight locomotives, while the delivery of Siemens Cityjet EMUs will continue, bringing new rolling stock to regional routes around Vienna, Linz and Graz.
Open-access long-distance passenger operator Westbahn will receive 10 new Stadler trains this year, enabling the introduction of hourly fast Vienna - Salzburg services from December 2017, which will make only one intermediate stop at Linz and double frequencies between Vienna and Salzburg. Alternate services will also be extended to Innsbruck.
At the fringes of the network, further closures of lightly-used regional lines are expected this year. The Weizelsdorf - Rosenbach and Hermagor - Kötschach-Mauthen lines in Carinthia closed in December 2016 and branch lines in Upper Austria are also under scrutiny as ÖBB seeks to pass control to the provincial government. Negotiations are still under way and some lines could be taken over by regional operator Stern & Hafferl.