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Following a massive redevelopment of the site occupied by Vienna’s old Südbahnhof, Vienna’s new fully operational Hauptbahnhof is Vienna’s rail hub, as well as having a wide range of shops. Where previously travelling through Vienna from Western Europe meant arrival at the Westbahnhof and then a tram or U-Bahn transfer to the Südbahnhof for onward connections into Central Eastern and South Eastern Europe and southern Austria and Italy, all services now go to and through the Hauptbahnhof.
The Westbahnhof (located by the Gürtel) now only serves regional trains and the private Westbahn, which runs between Vienna and Salzburg. Westbahn has attractive fares, apparently better in train Wifi (a serious consideration for regular users!). Both Westbahn and Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) now have online ticketing facilities for most of their services, although international routes might need to you see a customer service agent in person, as will Motorail services for high vehicles (over 1.58m high). Tickets can be bought for all train services, and there are options to reserve seats too – definitely worth doing for long-distance trips as well as at peak travel times.
Regular travellers on ÖBB take advantage of the Vorteilscard, which is available in a number of forms, depending on age, and at a regular price of EUR 99 for the Classic edition (cf. EUR 19 for under 26, EUR 25 for seniors (from 62)) is a good investment if you use trains anywhere near frequently, as it gives a 50% discount for tickets purchased online (or 45% discount at manned ticket desks). The ÖBB app also has online ticketing – very handy if you are in a rush. There are sometimes special offers (e.g. EUR 49 for new customers) for the Vorteilscard for new customers, which pop up periodically.
Austria’s railways make a great deal of the country very accessible – even for a weekend break. Innsbruck is now only 4 hours away (until recently it was a nearly 6 hour train journey) and Linz (70 minutes) and Salzburg (2 hours) are also well-served. Graz is only 3 hours away by train, and will eventually be cut to 2 hours 30 minutes with new mountain tunnels – although the section from Gloggnitz to Semmering is one of the most coveted stretches of track for train travel fans in Europe.
For holidays, it is also worth considering the Motorail (the Autoreisezug)- which runs over three routes in Austria: Vienna to Feldkirch (in Vorarlberg); Graz to Feldkirch and Vienna to Villach – and which can help get a holiday off to a more relaxed start than being stuck in traffic. There are other routes into neighbouring countries too. The Vienna-Feldkirch stretch sees you load the car at Hauptbahnhof at about 10pm, with departure at 10:30pm. You then either use a sleeping compartment or a couchette and arrive in Feldkirch around 7:30am, with breakfast served an hour before arrival. Travelling while you sleep can certainly help you make the most of your holiday.
There are various speeds of train services in Austria – the Railjet service being the fastest, followed by InterCity services. There are RegionalExpress services and Local services – the latter stopping at only larger stops. For Local services, it is worth checking whether or not your stop is a request stop – you have to press a button before the train approaches that station to ensure that it stops there. Within Vienna there are a number of Schnellbahn services which travel through Vienna’s extensive rail network and can also be used by holders of valid transportation passes and tickets for Wiener Linien. The mostly heavily travelled stretch, which is served by all sorts of lines that snake through Vienna is known as the Stammstrecke.
Last but not least, a word about the Majestic Imperator – Austria’s Luxury Train. There are a number of special services that run from the Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof up to the Wachau – and make a great present or treat for someone you know for a birthday or special occasion.
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