Austria, Czechia, and Germany have agreed to build a high-speed railway connection from Vienna to Berlin, intended to make the trip in four hours and five minutes. With the current travel time being nine hours, the proposed route would halve the journey.
Going via Dresden and Prague, the new connection would largely use or upgrade pre-existing infrastructure, although the construction of a new tunnel through the Ore Mountains between Saxony and Bohemia would be required. Austria, which only accounts for a small portion of the route, will need to be extend the Nordbahn (northern railway) – first built in the 1830s, it’s the country’s oldest line and currently ends in Břeclav, where it connects to the Czech Railway system. The connection between Berlin and Dresden is expected to be completed by 2025, with the entire route projected to be completed by 2030.
The new route is part of the so-called Trans-Europ Express TEE 2.0 initiative, which was presented during the German EU Council Presidency in September 2020. It envisions an expansion of high-speed rail lines between major European cities, with increased use of night trains throughout the continent.
Austrian Climate Protection Minister Leonore Gewessler welcomed the proposed route. “The railway is the backbone of climate-friendly transport,” she told APA. “And fast rail connections bring us all closer together in Europe.” She considers the project a “clear message” that trains are the future of short- and medium-haul routes in Europe.
In a video message, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen emphasized the importance of the project for achieving the European climate goals. “Our strategy for sustainable and intelligent mobility provides for a 90% reduction in traffic-related emissions by 2050,” she said. This requires doubling high-speed railway traffic by 2030 and tripling it by 2050. Additionally, railway freight traffic must grow at least 50% by 2030 and double by 2050.
In a similar tone, the EU has recently called on member states to reduce short-distance flights, a move pioneered by French President Emmanuel Macron last month. The commission plans to build new railway links to provide more incentive to travel by train instead of air. New night trains could be especially attractive as alternatives to short-hauls and car traffic.
However, experts have ridiculed these ambitions, pointing to the lack of railway infrastructure in the region. “A French-style TGV could cover such a distance in less than two hours,” EU expert and director of Euro Intelligence Wolfgang Münchnau wrote in an article. “France managed the transition from air to rail a long time ago – and even in France, there are still short-haul flights to connect Paris and Nice. The obstacles to do the same at the European level are bigger, and the legal and political scope small.”
Yet, von der Leyen has ensured the commission’s commitment to the project, announcing that it would propose an action plan to promote long-distance rail passenger transport later this year.