Proposed here is a high-speed rail line (HSL) along the eastern flanks of the Alps, from Vienna (Wien) to Maribor. It is a variant of the ‘Ungarische Flachbahn’ – the Hungarian Plains Line – which was discussed as an alternative for the Semmering Base Tunnel. The proposal here is broader in scope. It is in principle a high-speed route to south-eastern Europe – and not simply a solution to Austrian planning problems. It could be extended along the Drava to Belgrade.
High-speed lines south from Vienna…
The Alpine massif ends fairly abruptly on the eastern side, where the Pannonian Plain begins. The edge of the Alps is not a straight line, but it does correspond very roughly to the line Vienna – Zagreb. A route at the edge of the mountains can substitute for a trans-Alpine route over the Semmering Pass. That was the logic of the suggested alternative route from Vienna to Graz – the Ungarische Flachbahn via Sopron, connecting to Graz via the Raab valley.
During the Cold War, it would have been unthinkable for Austria to build and operate a new railway, through a Warsaw Pact state. The option became a political possibility, when Hungary joined the European Union and the Schengen zone. However, it remained a solution to an Austrian problem. The proposal here is made from a European perspective, and ignores the national borders – which date from the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The new line would diverge near Himberg, from the Wien-Raaber Bahn. This railway was the historic main line from Vienna to Budapest – the two capitals of Austria-Hungary. The first obstacle is the Leithagebirge hills, forming a ridge at right angles.
Leithagebirge, vertical axis exaggerated…
With a tunnel the new line could pass under Eisenstadt, but although that alignment was suggested for the Ungarische Flachbahn, it is not logical for a European high-speed route. Instead the HSL could follow existing rail lines and the A3 motorway, to pass the western edge of the Leithagebirge. A tunnel would still be needed, somewhere west of Klingenbach, to climb an escarpment: the old railway to Sopron winds around valleys here.
The new line would then follow the old railway south-east into Sopron, the Raab – Ödenburg – Ebenfurter Eisenbahn (Hungarian: Győr – Sopron – Ebenfurti Vasút, or GySEV). The Wien – Sopron section would be about 65 km long, from the new Wien Hauptbahnhof.
Sopron (population 61 000) is a historic university city, and the logical regional centre of northern Burgenland (see Regional lines Burgenland). From this first stop, the new HSL would run south to Szombathely. There is an existing rail line between the two, the 63-km GySEV line via Lövő, numbered as Hungarian line 15. However, the line (built 1865) runs in a wide semicircle, to avoid ridges and hills. These would not be a problem for a high-speed line, and a direct alignment is possible.
It would start south-east of Sopron, pass west of Deutschkreuz, and near Kleinwarasdorf, Nebersdorf and Frankenau. The alignment shown is indicative, and at least two ridge tunnels would be needed, with local elevation varying by 60 m over short distances. Over the whole route, elevation is between 190 m and 320 m, but that is not an obstacle for a high-speed railway. The longest tunnel would be east of Kőszeg, and the new line would then drop toward the local rail line into Szombathely. This is the isolated Hungarian line 18, originally part of the the through Burgenlandbahn from Sopron.
The HSL would join the existing alignment near Gencsapáti, and follow it into Szombathely. With major tunnelling, a relatively straight alignment through Austrian Burgenland is possible, 52 km long from Sopron to Szombathely. Following the terrain would make the line longer: the old Burgenlandbahn needed 70 km of route to join the same two cities. A high-speed line can not make too many concessions to the terrain, however, since curves must have a wide radius.
Szombathely (population 80 000) is the capital of Vas county (262 000). Here, the proposed HSL to Belgrade would diverge, at first running south-south-east. It would run via Zalaegerszeg and Nagykanizsa, and then parallel to the Drava through Slavonia, to Vinkovci and Beograd.
The HSL to Maribor would follow the existing rail line, from Szombathely to Szentgotthárd via Körmend, Hungarian line 21. It would leave the existing alignment only to by-pass Körmend. The existing line is 54 km long: the new line would be slightly shorter, about 53 km.
Click to enlarge: Körmend by-pass…
The next station would be at Szentgotthárd. The town has a population of only 9000, but it is the only logical station for interchange with the regional rail lines. The existing rail line from Körmend continues as the Steirische Ostbahn to Graz, 76 km further. The station here could also be linked to the Thermenbahn at Fürstenfeld by a new link line (about 20 km).
Click to enlarge: new link line Fürstenfeld – Szentgotthárd…
See the second part of this post, for the rest of the line, from Szentgotthárd to Maribor.