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Westbahn upgrading adds capacity to priority transit corridor

01 Apr 2002

INTRO: Austrian Federal Railways' 317 km Westbahn between Wien and Salzburg is being modernised to handle growing transit traffic as the European Union prepares for expansion

BYLINE: Dipl-Ing Helmut Hainitz and Dipl-Ing Rudolf Koller*

AUSTRIA'S location at the heart of Europe obliges it to handle heavy flows of transit traffic, both north-south and east-west. Accession to the European Union in 1995 cemented the nation's place in the expanding European market and emphasised the need for high capacity transport infrastructure.

The imminent expansion of the EU to embrace the countries of eastern Europe will place even greater demands on rail and road transit routes, with demand for movement of goods and passengers forecast to grow dramatically. Austrian Federal Railways' main line between Wien, Linz and Salzburg, known as the Westbahn, has a critical role to play in handling a share of this expanding east-west transit traffic.

Six major transport corridors criss-cross Austria, each forming an important domestic route in its own right. The government has called for the upgrading of the rail routes in each of them - the Danube, Arlberg, Brenner, Tauern, Pyhrn-Schober and Pontebbana routes.

The rail route along the Danube corridor forms part of the designated TEN project from Paris to Budapest via Stuttgart, München and Wien, and the section between Stuttgart and Wien has the formal status of a major international route known as European Project 17. The Westbahn is an integral part of this.

Project review

No less than 42% of Austria's population lives in the region served by the Westbahn. Early recognition of the line's strategic importance led in 1988 to a decision to upgrade the whole 317 km between Wien and Salzburg for 200 km/h running. At the time this project formed part of a national railway modernisation programme.

With the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the ensuing liberalisation of the countries in eastern Europe, the economic rationale for upgrading the Westbahn changed fundamentally. This led to a review of the project and the programme of work.

Emphasis changed from simply cutting journey times to providing much higher capacity to reflect the line's future role in the greater European economy. To meet demand for the foreseeable future, ÖBB decided that some sections of the line should be rebuilt with four tracks.

The Westbahn upgrading is being carried out jointly by ÖBB and Eisenbahn-Hochleistungsstrecken AG, a company set up in 1989 to plan and implement new works and main line upgrades.

Numerous improvements are being made as part of the upgrade. Work includes resignalling with computer-based interlockings, remodelling of station layouts, and erection of noise barriers at sensitive locations. On four-track sections the existing tracks are being retained primarily for regional traffic.

Based on the need to eliminate bottlenecks at key locations and to improve journey times between major towns, the upgrade has been divided into several sections, with work already substantially complete in some areas. The specification calls for line speed to be raised to 200 km/h, but some alignment parameters have been chosen to permit 250 km/h in the future.

New alignments

The topography of the 60 km Wien - St P