THE project to create a new central railway station in Vienna dates from the 1990s following the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989. Prior to that, demand for rail services from Vienna to Hungary and the former Czechoslovakia was relatively low, but when the political situation changed more and more people wanted to travel to Budapest, Bratislava and Prague and new services were introduced.

There was also a desire to connect these international trains to fast services to Graz, Linz and Salzburg, but the rail network in Vienna was not really designed for this. Vienna South was actually two adjacent terminal stations at right angles to each other. Trains from the east either terminated at the eastern platforms or were sent along a meandering route through the south of the city to Vienna West, itself a terminal station. This means Budapest - Vienna - Munich services have to change direction, which is rather time consuming.

The idea was to replace Vienna South and Vienna South (East) with a single station with through platforms. This would make it much easier to operate through services from Prague via Vienna to Graz and Villach in southern Austria and accelerate Budapest - Vienna - Salzburg services. It would also provide better connections between the two services as well as with regional and local trains.

viennaThe site chosen for the new central station is in the triangle between the two existing termini at Vienna South. The plan involved demolishing the old station with its two groups of terminal platforms and redeveloping the areas as a business district. The old Vienna East freight yard was also removed with the land used for housing. By selling the now surplus land, Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) has been able to generate some of the funds necessary to build the new station.

The new Main Station (Hauptbahnhof in German) and associated facilities stretches from the eastern end of Meidling station to Grillgasse station. Although the new station has through tracks many trains will continue to start or terminate there and so huge service facilities are being built to replace the old South and East depot and servicing areas.

The scale of the project and the need to keep trains running, albeit by diverting services to other stations in Vienna, meant the work had to be phased. Construction started in June 2007 with the reconstruction of Südtiroler Platz S-Bahn station and the transformation of the former Matzleinsdorf marshalling yard into a depot and servicing area. The latter had to be operational by December 2009 to enable closure of the old South station and its depots. At the same time a small depot was opened at Grillgasse which is being used to stable locomotives but has no maintenance facilities.

Temporary platforms

Construction then focused on the new station building and platforms. During this time, temporary platforms for regional trains to Marchegg and Bruck-an-der-Leitha remained in use at South (East) station. In December 2012 the first stage of the new Main Station opened with five tracks, four of them situated beside two island platforms. At the same time the temporary platforms at South (East) were closed and trains transferred to the new station.

At present, the new station is only served by regional trains, while trains to Prague and Budapest pass through and stop at Meidling. The latter is also the temporary terminus of Graz and Villach trains.

Work has now moved to the Main Station - Grillgasse section where stabling and servicing facilities are being built as well as a motorail terminal. Once completed, the new station will consist of five island platforms with 10 tracks plus two through tracks for freight trains.

A subway will connect the new station with Südtiroler Platz S-Bahn and U-Bahn station which has now been renamed Hauptbahnhof. There is criticism that the subway is quite long with passengers having to walk 500m. Main Station is also served by three tram and two bus lines.

The station building and additional platforms are to expected to open in December 2014. However, due to some delays three platforms will only be accessible from the Meidling end allowing trains currently terminating at Meidling to be extended to Main Station. The connection at the other end will be completed a year later enabling the final operational concept to be introduced in December 2015.

To take full advantage of the new station some changes had to be made to the Vienna rail network. Most important is a new tunnel between West and Meidling forming part of the new Vienna - St Pölten high-speed line which opened in December 2012. This will enable trains from Linz and Salzburg to run directly to Main Station without having to reverse at West.

A new chord is under construction from the eastern side of Main Station to the Ostbahn to Bruck-an-der-Leitha and the airport which is due to open in 2015.

Once these projects have been completed ÖBB plans to introduce a new timetable concept for its long-distance trains serving Vienna. Although plans are still being finalised, Railjet services operating every two hours are expected to be organised as follows:

• Budapest - Vienna - Munich

• Graz - Vienna - Prague

• Graz - Vienna - Airport

• Villach - Vienna with some trains probably continuing to Warsaw or to Vienna airport, and

• Vienna - Zürich.

An hourly Salzburg - Vienna - Airport inter-city service is also planned. However, it is still unclear whether some of ÖBB's inter-city trains will continue to serve Vienna West. Open-access operator Westbahn has already announced that its Vienna - Salzburg - Freilassing service will continue to operate from West and ÖBB does not want to lose passengers to Westbahn.

Several improvements were made to regional train services in December 2012. Some of the trains which terminated at South (East) now continue to Meidling and a number of cross-Vienna services have been introduced such as S-Bahn links from Hirschstetten to Wiener Neustadt and from Bruck-an-der-Leitha to Hütteldorf, and a regional express service from Bratislava Petrzalka to Ebenfurth and Deutschkreutz. Once Main Station is fully operational more through local services may be introduced.

Whilst some long-distance trains will serve the airport from 2015 there is also an option to operate an S-Bahn service from Main Station to the airport via the new chord which would complement the existing Floridsdorf - Rennweg - Airport S-Bahn service. However, ÖBB has yet to conclude a funding agreement and will not introduce such a service without a subsidy.

Like many other large stations Main Station will include a shopping mall which will open in December 2014. New office buildings are already under construction on the site of the old South station, and ÖBB will relocate its headquarters there in due course. The housing area on the former freight yard will be developed step-by-step, and construction is expected to be completed around 2020.

What are the benefits of Vienna's new Main Station? ÖBB says that it will reduce the need for passengers to change trains by enabling more through services to operate and it will make it much easier to connect between regional and long-distance services. This will also enable ÖBB to reduce operating costs as it will be able to use its rolling stock more productively.