Austria is a beautiful country characterized by mountain villages, lakes, forests and vineyards. The best way to experience its natural beauty is through trains that run throughout the length and breadth of this Central European nation. The Austrian Federal Railways or ÖBB (Österreichische Bundesbahnen) is the National Railway Network entirely owned by the Government of the Republic of Austria with approximately 40 thousand employees. It serves a major part of Central Europe with an extensive network within Austria and train services to other countries like Hungary, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, Liechtenstein, Slovakia, Slovenia and Italy. It runs both passenger and freight services. My experiences are based on the following train journeys-
- Vienna (Wien Hbf) to Budapest (Budapest Keleti) on Railjet 41
- Linz Hbf to Salzburg Hbf on Railjet 596
- Salzburg Hbf to Attnang Puchheim on Railjet 543
- Attnang Puchheim to Hallstat Bahnof (Return) on Regional Express 3406, 3431
- Attnang Puchheim to Vienna (Flughafen Wien Bahnof) on Railjet 769
ÖBB Railjet are the express trains that connect major cities. With a maximum speed of 230 Kmph, they are divided into 3 classes- Economy, First and Business class. Economy class is decently priced but because of dynamic fares, the prices increase with time. A Sparschiene or ‘early bird’ ticket from Vienna to Budapest costs around 24 Euros for economy class. Tickets can be purchased on ÖBB App or one of their kiosks.
Seats and storage
The seats, even in economy class, are very comfortable with ample leg room. First class comes with more leg room. The seats have been custom made for good head and neck support. The only negative was that the seats do not recline, however, this was not needed as they are very comfortable even without it. The coaches are very spacious with ample storage facility available in the middle and end of coaches and in the overhead racks. Reservation of seats is available at an extra fee of 3 Euros but it is not necessary at all! There are designated coaches if you want to take your bicycle or dogs. Railjet consists only of chaircars and ÖBB Nightjet provides sleeper coaches for overnight journeys.
The coaches of Railjet provide the smoothest journeys possible with excellent ride index at all speeds as compared to LHB coaches in Indian Railways which have irregular vibrations at higher speeds and jerks because of coupling issues. (RDSO still considers a ride index of 3.25 as ‘passable’ which is normally considered as ‘irregular’ according to the Sperling Ride Index).
On Board Information System
On board information system is very impressive with screens that are visible from all seats in a carriage. These screens display the route of the train, upcoming stations, time, speed of the train. Information is displayed in German and English. I was amazed to see that while approaching a major junction where many people de-board for connecting trains, information of trains on each platform of that station is also provided in the train! This is very convenient for passengers as many of them have very less time to catch the connecting train and lack of information leads to panic and confusion and the passenger may even miss their train! (Again, something that can be improved on Indian Railways). Apart from this, there’s an announcement system in both German and English.
Dining/ Restaurant Car
Every Railjet Train has a dining car. The menu includes breakfast, lunch and dinner meals with a wide range of hot, alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages. Whilst I found it to be a bit on the expensive side, my breakfast was hot, fresh and delicious. The service is delivered with great care and courtesy. The restaurant car is a great place to spend a part of one’s journey. The seating capacity is low but still a table can be found quite easily. Food is also delivered to the seats of passengers.
The trains run like clockwork and even a minutes delay is rare to find. It goes for both Railjet and the Regional express trains which stop at every station.
The Regional Express trains are the Austrian equivalent of passenger trains. They run at lower speeds than the Railjet and stop at every station. Therefore, they are used more by local daily passengers and provide connectivity to far flung areas. However, journey on the Regional Express in the Salzkammergut Region of Austria is perhaps one of the most beautiful train journeys one can undertake. Going through small towns like Ebensee, Hallstatt and Obertraun, it provides endless views of Alpine mountains and clear lakes with small picturesque villages passing every minute. It provides great insights to the life in Austrian countryside.
Railway Stations play a significant role in making the journey of a passenger convenient and providing the requisite information which is needed to board a train with relative ease and stations in Austria do just that!
The information is displayed very scientifically at all points within the station to leave no room for confusion. Screens are installed at regular intervals which give information of the position of various trains on different platforms.
The platforms are divided into various parts (a,b,c,d,e) so that its easy to convey the position of the train to the passengers and the exact location of their coach on the platform. For example, a train would be expected on Platform 12a-e and the coach position would be platform 12b-c. This way the passenger knows the exact position of his train and coach on the platform. Each platform is provided with screens which show exact position of each train and coach that arrives on that particular platform.
A model to follow- Wien Hauptbahnof station
The success of any public transport system depends on the interlinkages between various modes and the ease at which a passenger can transfer from one mode to the other. This is essential because every mode (Train, metro, tram, bus, taxi, boat) caters to different areas and a passenger may require more than one modes to reach from one place to another. If a person wants to travel from Vienna city center to the Vienna Central Station, they can easily hop on a metro (U-Bahn) and reach Hauptbahnof- Sudtiroler Platz station (U1). From the U-Bahn station, there is a convenient passage way directly to the station. Furthermore, one can directly take an escalator to the desired platform and board their train! Such a system is the result of great planning and vision. No matter how much luggage you have, you can easily go from the metro station to the railway station with absolute ease and convenience. The same process can be followed in reverse when going from Wien HBf to the U-Bahn station.
The NDLS railway station in New Delhi, by contrast, has been a victim of faulty planning. Transferring from the metro station to the railway station is very painful especially while carrying luggage (Which most people do if they are boarding or de-boarding from a train). There is no underpass and one has to cross a wide road full of Autos, cars, taxis and full of obstructions just to get to the entry of platform 16. To go to other platforms, one has to get on the overpass and then walk and get down again at the desired platform. Exiting from NDLS station and taking the metro is even more inconvenient as one has to further walk 200 metres and navigate through traffic because the entry of the metro station is quite far from the railway station. However, in Lucknow, the Lucknow Junction station of North Eastern Railway has direct connection with the metro station through a sky walk. This sky walk connects to the foot over bridge of the station so passengers can move directly to their platforms!
ÖBB is one of the most advanced Rail systems that I have experienced with front line staff who carry out their business with a lot of care for their passengers. No doubt, Austria has to cater to very less population not at all comparable to a country like India but still there are a lot of lessons that can be learnt by Indian Railways.
(Written by Siddhartha Verma, IRTS)
(Watch out for articles on Hungarian, Czech Railways (České dráhy) and Deutsche Bahn in the near future!)