Austrian Railways Set New Records

Train passenger numbers in Austria have hit new records, making the country the No. 1 railroad nation in the EU. That builds on a long legacy.

Austria is not what you would call a natural railway country. With an average elevation of 910 meter – from the 3,789-meter-high peak of the Großglockner to Lake Neusiedel at a mere 115 meters above the sea level – locomotives must huff and puff up the mountains and down to get to their destinations. To say nothing of the long East-West stretch from the Slovak border to Switzerland, which makes classical hub networks, such as the French one centered on Paris, all but impossible.

Yet, despite all these difficulties, or perhaps because of them (who wants to snake up all those mountain passes in a car?), the Austrian railways are booming. A grand total of 309.9 million trips by train were logged in Austria in 2018 – 6.6% more than in the year before and a new record. On average, every Austrian traveled 1,505 kilometers with the train – that’s almost three times the distance from Vienna to Bregenz.


Of Tracks & Traces

The foundations for the tracks these trains speed along were, in impressively large part, laid in times past. As early as 1808, a mere seven years after the term “railroad” entered a lexicon for the first time, Franz Josef von Gerstner suggested connecting the Vltava in Bohemia with the Danube in Austria – the two most important rivers and industrial regions of the Habsburg Empire at that time.

His son Franz Anton von Gerstner traveled to England to study the science of building a railway in 1822, but soon realized that the altitude variances of his homeland required new thinking. The English idea to simply build a cable car with a stationary steam engine seemed wildly impractical.

So, it fell to the Austrians and Bohemians to pioneer railways in mountainous regions. An early highpoint was the spectacular Semmering Railway built from 1848 to 1854, the brainchild of Carl Ritter von Ghega. The Semmeringbahn was the first railway to cross the Alps and opened the Semmering region to tourism – another harbinger of a great Austrian industry in later times.


A Train Nation

What’s certain is that Austrians are very fond of their trains, today as in the past. “Nobody travels as often with the train as the Austrians,” said Maria-Theresia Röhsler, the director of the Austrian Schienen-Control (Rail Control Authority). The Swiss actually do travel more, but they are not in the EU, so we can take the crown for the European Union. According to Röhsler, the recent growth is due to increased offerings on local public transport, and intercity travel, which breaks records every year.


In 2018, 84% of rail passengers were carried by the state-owned Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB), completing 261 million trips. The private Westbahn logged the other 16%, at 49 million trips.  And in recent years, the ÖBB has also started to venture beyond Austria’s borders. Following the Deutsche Bahn’s decision to cease all night train operations in Germany, the ÖBB took over the business in late 2016 and has expanded it briskly. Two years on, passenger numbers of the ÖBB Nightjets are booming, helped along by a growing consciousness of the environmental impact of air traffic and a newfound fascination with night trains as an experience of its own.

All this has attracted the attention of The New York Times:  Once Threatened, Europe’s Night Trains Rebound”  the paper wrote on June 11, with the ÖBB a main protagonist of this renaissance on the rails. The von Gerstners and Ritter von Ghega would surely have been proud.

Benjamin Wolf
Benjamin studied Journalism, History and International Affairs. After stints with Cafébabel in Paris and Arte in Strasbourg, he is now working as managing editor and COO for Metropole in Vienna. Fields of expertise are politics, economics, culture, and history.Photo: Visual Hub

Help us help you

“Strong media and independent journalism are built on the shoulders of subscribers. Your support means the world to us.

Benjamin Wolf
COO & Managing Editor

The coronavirus outbreak affects and challenges your life in big and small ways. Metropole is here for you and we are proud to be your news source during this crisis.

But just as the coronavirus has increased the need for independent journalism, it has also undercut a major revenue source of media companies, ours included – advertising.

We need your support to keep it up – donate or subscribe and #helpushelpyou!

Support Metropole!


RECENT Articles

Coronavirus in Austria & Vienna | The City Prepares for a Safe Election Day...

The coronavirus has arrived in Austria. Here’s all you need to know about current measures, including where to get help, information and tips – updated regularly.

SALONFÄHIG – Austrian Vintages That Hold Their Own Anywhere

The annual Wine Salon in Palais Coburg presented a tough jury's selection of the best of the current year. The setting was magnificent, the wines too.

COVID in High Places: Star Director Robert Dornhelm Tests Positive After VIP Eve...

“Freud” director Marvin Kren steps in for leading Austrian filmmaker, who remains ill following an Aug 18 diagnosis and an elite reception at Grafenegg.

The Out of Control Fringes

At a protest against coronavirus restrictions in Vienna, far-right extremists put on a homophobic display in front of a cheering crowd, while drawing outrage from the Greens.

A Cloth Mask or a Plastic Shield – Which, When and How?

Protective barriers are essential for preventing the spread of COVID-19; but there is a choice and room for creativity. Details below!

How to Enjoy an Art Fair

You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy the wide world of contemporary art – but enthusiasm and courteousness helps.


Join over 5,000 Metropolitans, who already get monthly news updates and event invitations.