Both Maribor and Zalaegerszeg are on proposed high-speed rail lines (HSL) from Vienna (Wien). Maribor is on the HSL Szentgotthárd – Maribor, and Zalaegerszeg is on the HSL from Vienna to Nagykanisza and the Drava basin. The regional line proposed here would link them, using new and existing lines.
The new route would run through Murska Sobota. The town has only 12 000 inhabitants, but it is the regional centre of Prekmurje, serving about 100 000 people. The only other towns on the route are Lenti (population 8500), and the double village of Bad Radkersburg and Gornja Radgona (together 6000 inhabitants). The old line between Lenti and Lendava would also be reopened, connecting to the Lendava – Čakovec line (recently closed to passenger traffic).
The Slovenian national infrastructure plan includes a line with a similar function, but it would run from Murska Sobota via Beltinci to Lendava, and then turn north, using the old alignment to Lenti. (The planned route is designed to maximise the benefits inside Slovenia).
The entire region was originally part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Most of the route was in the Kingdom of Hungary, in the former Zala County, Murska Sobota was in the former Vas County. The border at Bad Radkersburg, between the two parts of the Empire, is now the Austrian-Slovenian border.
Click to enlarge: old Zala county, map from Wikipedia…
The line proposed here is new: there was no historical rail route Maribor – Murska Sobota – Zalaegerszeg. There was a local line through Murska Sobota, aligned north-south. It was recently re-opened and upgraded, as part on an international freight route (Ormoz – Hodoš – Zalaegerszeg, Slovenian line 41). The former Radkersburger Bahn joined it at Ljutomer.
In Hungary, the 49-km line 23, Rédics – Lenti – Zalaegerszeg, was built as a local line within Zala County. It originally ran to Lendava and Čakovec. After the division of Hungary in 1918-1920, the Rédics – Lendava section was abandoned.
The new rail line would be approximately parallel to the Slovenian A5 motorway through Prekmurje. This connects in Hungary, via the 20-km M70, to the main Budapest motorway, M7. The new rail line is not however intended as a Maribor – Budapest route.
The new line would diverge from the proposed HSL to Vienna, about 30 km from Maribor. There are two options for the diverging route, north and south of Bad Radkersburg.
Click to enlarge: the route options at Bad Radkersburg, HSL in white with regional line in blue, southern variant in red…
The northern option would have a station on the HSL itself, connecting with a relocated Radkersburger Bahn (from Graz). The southern variant would split from the HSL further west, in the Apaško polje,. The new regional line would then run in tunnel, south of the river Mur / Mura, with a station in Gornja Radgona. Both alignments would run east to Murska Sobota.
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The line would cross flat agricultural land: the main issue is the route through the town. The existing station is aligned north-south, at right angles to new line. Murska Sobota is small enough, to allow relocation to the southern edge of the town. The logical site is alongside the ring road, at the end of Tomšičeva Ulica. Even in combination with a northern alignment at Bad Radkersburg, this seems the best option. The existing line from Hodoš can be rerouted alongside the drainage canal, on the west side of the town.
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From Murska Sobota, the new line would continue through the flat floodplain, toward Rédics. The simplest option is to follow the A5 motorway. In that case, the line would run east from the new station, to join the existing alignment, and follow it for about 4 km to the motorway. It would then turn alongside the A5, on its northern side. The motorway alignment avoids the lowest land (along the canalized Ledava river), and the villages. As the motorway turns south-east to Lendava, the new line would diverge toward Rédics (alignment shown in red).
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Alternatively, the line could run south-east from Murska Sobota to Beltinci, parallel to the main road, and then turn due east toward Rédics (alignment shown in yellow). Beltinci has a population of 2400, the municipality 8000 – perhaps enough to justify a station.
At Rédics station, the new line would join the existing alignment of Hungarian line 23. On the image, a straight line west of Rédics is visible, so it looks like the railway ran west. That is however a road: the original rail alignment turned south to Lendava, around the hills.
Click to enlarge: The rail lines around 1910. The base map is an Austro-Hungarian military map, using Hungarian place names.
The restored line from Lendava would also join line 23 at Rédics station. This long-closed alignment is still available, but at the edge of Lendava, it can be shifted west to avoid housing.
From Rédics, line 23 would be upgraded: the first 5 km to Lenti are almost straight. Rédics itself would be served by local trains using the restored line from Lendava. Inter-regional trains would only serve Lenti (population 8500). From there, it is 44 km to Zalaegerszeg: the single-track rural rail line follows stream valleys. Upgrading would be comparable to the Hodoš line, for a line speed of 160 km/h. The line serves only small villages: the largest is Bak, with 1700 inhabitants.
At Baktüttös, south of Bak, there is an S-bend in the alignment: it crosses from one valley to another. A short tunnel would be needed here, to improve the alignment. The remaining section through Bak is straighter. At Bak, the Drava plain HSL to Vienna would join the existing rail alignment. If there was sufficient capacity, fast inter-regional trains would use the HSL. Otherwise, this section of line 23 would also be upgraded, for the remaining 12 km into Zalaegerszeg.
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In Zalaegerszeg (population 62 000), the existing station would be expanded. The proposed HSL would give connections to Vienna (Wien): the station is also on the existing Hungarian lines 17 and 25.
The new route would be approximately 125 km long, with about 75 km of new alignments. Murska Sobota would be about 50 km from Maribor. With new and upgraded alignments, and partial use of a high-speed line, total Maribor – Zalaegerszeg journey time should be about one hour.