Burgenland is the smallest federal state of Austria, and its present borders are a historical accident. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this was part of Hungary, but with a German-speaking majority. After the First World War, it was transferred to the new Austrian Republic – but the regional centre Sopron / Ödenburg voted to remain Hungarian. The rail network was cut in several places, and the regional economy disrupted. The negative effects can not be blamed on the later ‘Iron Curtain’, but it did make things worse.
Sopron County around 1890…
The region does have a natural boundary, separating it from the Vienna Basin to the north-west: the hills of the Leithagebirge and Rosaliengebirge. ‘Behind’ the Leithagebirge (seen from Vienna), is the large steppe lake Neusiedlersee / Fertő tó, and beyond it the Pannonian Plain. The Austrian-Hungarian border on the flat plain is completely artificial, and so is the border with the Slovakian capital of Bratislava to the north.
Ignoring the borders, the proposed urban-regional metro in Bratislava would make end-to-end connections with its S-Bahn equivalent in Vienna (Wien).
Urban-regional metro around Bratislava…
The proposed high-speed rail line Vienna – Bratislava would provide an alternative to current services, and facilitate upgrading of the Budapest route via Bruck an der Leitha. To the south, the proposed high-speed line to Maribor would serve Sopron.
HSL Vienna – Sopron…
A re-orientation of the services in northern Burgenland is a logical successor to those projects. The area concerned has a population of roughly 200 000 to 250 000. It is generally rural, and many of the villages are small. The larger settlements are all district or regional capitals. West of the Leithagebirge hills is Wiener Neustadt (population 41 000). This is a rail junction, and the terminus of three S-Bahn lines from Vienna.
After the secession of Sopron, Eisenstadt became the capital of Austrian Burgenland, although it only has 12 000 inhabitants. It is on the southern side of the Leithagebirge, and has no direct rail connection to Vienna. The only other large villages are Mattersburg (7 000 inhabitants), on the rail line to Sopron, and the lake resort of Neusiedl am See (population 6500). Some S-Bahn trains on line S60 are extended to Neusiedl. Sopron is the only true city in the region, with 59 000 inhabitants. It is the natural region centre for the northern Burgenland (and for adjoining areas of Hungary).
To link these cities and towns in a logical pattern, the following existing and new routes are needed:
Wiener Neustadt to Sopron: this is the existing Mattersburger Bahn via Mattersburg.
Wiener Neustadt to Bruck an der Leitha: no through service at present. A direct route can be created, by building a new south-to-east curve at Gramatneusiedl, and reopening a section of the Pottendorf line (from Wampersdorf to Gramatneusiedl). That would allow trains to continue over the main line, to Bruck an der Leitha – for instance, as part of a regional express service Wiener Neustadt – Bratislava.
Wiener Neustadt to Eisenstadt: indirect route, at present requires a reversal at Wulkaprodersdorf. A short curve is planned to avoid reversal. A better option is a new 6 km cut-off line, alongside the A3 and the S31, from Müllendorf to Eisenstadt. A more complex option would be to route this cut-off line via tunnel, under the centre of Eisenstadt.
Vienna to Eisenstadt: the existing regional express service to Sopron, via the Pottendorf line, requires reversal at Ebenfurth. It does not go to Eisenstadt, but passengers can change trains at Wulkaprodersdorf. The Müllendorf – Eisenstadt cut-off (see above) would avoid Wulkaprodersdorf.
A second cut-off line, from Wampersdorf Station to Müllendorf, could then bypass Ebenfurth. It could be built alongside the A3, possibly in combination with the HSL to Sopron. With through passengers using the HSL, the regional express service could be re-routed to Eisenstadt.
Eisenstadt to Sopron: existing line via Wulkaprodersdorf, but the present journey requires change of trains there (to the regional express service to Sopron). The alignment is sharply curved in places, and needs upgrading.
Eisenstadt to Neusiedl and Bruck an der Leitha: this is the existing 28-km Leithagebirgsbahn to Neusiedl, now electrified. The line has limited utility as a route to Vienna, because of the long detour around the Leithagebirge. Bruck an der Leitha is however the logical terminus for local trains from Eisenstadt – with connections to both Bratislava and Vienna, and along for inter-regional trains on the main line to Győr and Budapest.
Bruck an der Leitha to Fertőszentmiklós: this is the line around the east side of the Neusiedl Lake, the Neusiedler Seebahn (it is inland from the shore). It ends at Fertőszentmiklós, on the Sopron – Győr main line. This line has a limited through service to/from Wien Südbahnhof, via Bruck an der Leitha.
In order to link these last two routes to Bratislava, the link line from Neusiedl must be upgraded. The present pattern of services is almost right: trains from Neusiedl stop at a new halt (‘Parndorf Ort’) on the western side of Parndorf, before joining the line to Bruck. That replaces the original layout, when the Neusiedl line ran to the original Parndorf station, on the eastern side of the village. The Neusiedl – Parndorf line is single-track and curved: it climbs 60 m from the lakeside, to the plateau of the Parndorfer Heide. The ideal solution is to replace it with a new section to Neusiedl, starting a a new Parndorf station (one station is enough for its 4000 inhabitants). The section Parndorf – Bruck would need to be four-tracked.
The new section could also serve new development south of the station, at Wirtschaftspark Parndorf, and especially the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Parndorf. This is an American-owned and developed Factory Outlet Center with 150 shops selling single-brand goods (mainly fashion) at a discount. FOC’s are designed to serve huge areas, they are built on greenfield sites, and they are designed for access by car. This one has a website in German, English, Slovak, Hungarian and even Russian, and is strategically located where highway 50 from Bratislava crosses the Vienna – Budapest motorway. It would be possible to re-route the Parndorf – Neusiedl line via the centre. However: from an environmental and planning perspective, it would be better to close the Designer Outlet, and relocate the shops to Vienna and Bratislava. (There is a smaller Pannonia Shopping Park on the other side of the motorway, equally isolated from public transport).
There are several options possible here. First, the existing loop from Neusiedl station to the Fertőszentmiklós line can be shortened, with new platforms. (Several houses would be demolished in the process). The old platforms would still be used by trains from Eisenstadt.
Second, a 1500-m tunnel (dotted white line on the larger image) could climb from the station to the plateau, emerging near the roundabout on the B50 road. A station there can serve the commercial zone (with the Pannonia Shopping Park). From there, the line would continue alongside the B50, with a possible station at the Designer Outlet. It would join the main line, at an upgraded version of the halt Parndorf Ort. (This would replace the existing Bahnhof Parndorf).
An third alternative (brown-white line on the overview map), is an upgraded version of the present line, north of Neusiedl station. It follows a small valley, to climb to the plateau. Near the A4 motorway, it would be replaced by a new cut-off line to the main line, joining it near motorway junction 40. In this version, trains from Neusiedl would run directly to Bruck an der Leitha, avoiding Parndorf. However, although Bruck is closer to Vienna, Parndirf is a better interchange station for Bratislava, so the advantages of this route are limited.