High-speed rail lines (HSL) along the eastern flank of the Alps, proposed here earlier, would transform the regional railway geography. The proposed HSL from Vienna (Wien) would split at Szombathely. The HSL to Maribor includes an interchange station at Szentgotthárd. That would allow interchange with the existing rail line from Graz, the Steirische Ostbahn along the Rába / Raab valley.
Video: the existing Szentgotthárd – Szombathely line…
The other branch of the high-speed line (HSL) from Vienna, the line to the Drava plains, would pass through Zalaegerszeg. However, there would still be no direct connection, from Graz to Zalaegerszeg.
Passengers from Graz to Zalaegerszeg could travel to Szentgotthárd, change to the HSL, travel north-east to Szombathely, and then back southwards to Zalaegerszeg. That is a long detour. Alternatively, they could travel to Maribor or Murska Sobota, and use the proposed inter-regional line Maribor – Murska Sobota – Zalaegerszeg. That too involves a long detour.
Click to enlarge: new link Maribor – Murska Sobota – Zalaegerszeg…
A new regional service can be created, by building a new line across the Őrség hills. It would connect the Rába / Raab valley to the Zala valley, linking the existing rail lines in those valleys. From Graz into the Raab valley, trains would use the Steirische Ostbahn. In the Zala valley, they would use the Murska Sobota – Zalaegerszeg line. This cross-border line via Hodoš was re-opened in 2001, primarily as a transit route from Hungary to Slovenia. It was rebuilt to high standards, and was electrified in 2010.
The only topographical obstacle is the Őrség ridge, but it is only about 100 m above the valley floors. The region is a national park, but the restored Hodoš line runs through it already, with extra environmental protection.
The new Raab – Zala link would start east of Szentgotthárd Although this is a small town (population 9000), it is a logical site for interchange between HSL and regional rail lines. That includes the proposed new link from the Thermenbahn at Fürstenfeld.
Click to enlarge: new 20-km link line Fürstenfeld – Szentgotthárd…
There are several possible alignments between the Raab and the Zala. The simplest would turn south from the Raab valley near Csörötnek, and pass through the Őrség region near Kondorfa. It would pass north of Őriszentpéter, and join the Zala valley line east of Nagyrákos. It would be about 20 km long: the S-shape is determined by the local topography.
Click to enlarge: The new line superimposed on the original railway geography, from an Austro-Hungarian military map of around 1910.
The new line could also follow the existing Körmend – Zalalövő rail line, which crosses the ridge about 14 km further east. It is more of a straight line, but the junctions are aligned the wrong way for Graz – Zalaegerszeg traffic. Even with new approaches at both ends, this route would probably be as long as the first option.
In theory, there are many other possible alignments. The Raab and Zala valleys run parallel to each other, about 15 km apart, so all routes between them are approximately equal in length. However, the alignment near Őriszentpéter seems the most logical.
The line along the Zala into Zalaegerszeg is already upgraded, but is single-track. At present, traffic is low, but a regular inter-regional service would require capacity improvements. The Steirische Ostbahn between Graz and Szentgotthárd, about 82 km, also needs upgrading, and enough capacity for separate local and inter-regional services.
The total length of the new route Graz – Zalaegerszeg is about 143-145 km. With upgraded approaches to a new central section, journey time would be under two hours. At Zalaegerszeg, the line would connect to the proposed HSL to the Drava plain, and also to an upgraded line to Budapest (more on that later).