The vision of taking the subway from Elterleinplatz in the 17th district of Hernals all the way to Karlsplatz became more tangible last Wednesday on January 20th, when city and federal officials gathered to inaugurate the beginning of construction on the long-awaited U5, a state-of-the-art, fully automated and driverless subway line that will operate across 5 km of tracks and 8 stations by 2026.
Each donning a large shovel, Finance Minister Gernot Blümel (ÖVP), Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens), City Councillor for Finance Peter Hanke (SPÖ) and the CEO of Wiener Linien (Vienna Public Transport) Günter Steinbauer broke new ground and posed for pictures at the future site of the U5 station Frankhplatz, right by the Nationalbank and the University of Vienna’s campus.
Deleted from the original plans for Vienna’s underground transit network 1966-67, the U5 in its current form was hailed by environment minister Gewessler as “one of the largest climate protection projects in Austria.” The new subway line – budgeted at €2.1 billion – is estimated to increase the capacity of Vienna’s public transit network by 300 million passengers a year, while creating up to 30,000 jobs.
Frankhplatz is the first of many construction sites: Parallel to construction on the U5, the Wiener Linien will also extend the U2 from Karlsplatz through Matzleinsdorferplatz to Wienerberg in the 10th District by 2028, adding a grand total of 9 kilometers and 11 new stations to Vienna’s subway network. According to coordinator Peter Lenz, it will be the city’s largest construction project in the coming years.
The Big Dig
In its initial rollout, the new U5 is set to share existing sections of the U2 that connect Karlsplatz, Museumsquartier, Volkstheater and Rathaus. The next phase will see it extended by four new stations: Frankhplatz, Anne-Karlsson-Park, Michelbeuern and Elterleinplatz (Hernals), granting a long-awaited direct connection from the city center to the 17th district.
With Frankhplatz as the transfer hub for the U2 and U5, new underground tracks must be laid around the Rathaus, presenting the challenge of heavy construction in a densely built area and disruption of main thoroughfares. The Landesgerichtsstrasse has become a one-way street in places, with diversions leading over the Feldstrasse and Ebendorfer Strasse for cars and over Friedrich-Schmidt-Platz and the Rathausstraße for cyclists. Drivers will also be rerouted from Alser Straße/Universitätsstraße – which has been closed, except for trams and bike lanes – onto Frankgasse and Haulerstraße. Steinbauer said the public can expect heavy machinery breaking up the asphalt and laying new tracks in six to eight weeks; tunnel construction will begin mid-2022.
The project will entail “massive obstructions” to traffic for its entire duration, with preliminary diversion already noticeable around the university campus and the U2’s Rathaus station. However, Lenz assured the public that based on state-of-the-art traffic simulations, the detours “should not lead to significant traffic jams,”
First opened in 1978, the Vienna U-Bahn system today includes 5 lines – covering 83.1 kilometers of track, half of which are underground, and including sections based on the pre WWI Wiener Elektrischen Stadtbahn, and the 1898 Dampfstadtbahn, the city’s original steam railway.