Franz Josef Railway modernization to strengthen Prague-Vienna connection

In addition to reducing travel time between the two capitals, the line will become more environmentally friendly.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 30.03.2023 15:00:00 (updated on 30.03.2023) Reading time: 3 minutes

Train travel between Prague and Vienna will be faster and more ecological in the coming years. A century-and-a-half-old railway originally named after Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph will be modernized.

Czech Transport Minister Martin Kupka and Austrian Federal Minister for Climate Protection and Transport Leonore Gewessler signed a joint declaration on upgrading the historical train line to meet modern ecological standards.

On the Czech side, the railway line between Veselí nad Lužnicí, just south of Tabor, and České Velenice at the Czech border will be electrified. This will enable a passenger and freight connection between Prague and Vienna via Gmünd. Work on the modernization of the Czech section should be completed in 2028. The entire Austrian section of the line has been electrified since 1995.

On both sides of the border, increases in line speeds, selective double-track expansion, and modernization of safety technology are planned.

Travel time will be greatly reduced

When completed, these measures the travel time from Vienna's Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof to Prague’s main station Hlavní nádraží will be reduced by around 40 minutes from the current 5 hours and10 minutes to around 4 hours and 30 minutes

"The modernization of this line is key to the direct connection of important regional centers, such as Austria’s Tulln or the Czech cities of Třeboň and Tábor," Kupka said on Twittter.

Austria’s Gewessler said the Franz-Josefs-Bahn rail line is important for people who want climate-friendly and comfortable travel. The improvements will help to strengthen the sustainability of public transport and offer people modern infrastructure and more attractive services. “This is how climate change succeeds,” she tweeted.

Some progress on improving train travel between the two capitals has already been made. At the end of December 2022, new direct connections from Vienna's Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof to Prague’s Hlavní nádraží (on a slightly different route) went into operation.

Rail connections between Czechia and Austria date back to the 19th century when both countries were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Kaiser-Franz-Josephs-Bahn – which opened in 1868 – was originally for steam engines. The historical name is still used for the sections in Austria but has mostly been dropped in Czechia, along with other references to the imperial era. Prague’s main train station, now called Praha hlavní nádraží (or officially Wilsonovo nádraží after U.S. President Woodrow Wilson) was originally called Nádraží císaře Františka Josefa, which translates to Emperor Franz Josef Station.

Long-term plans include high-speed rail

The new agreement is part of an overall concept for expanding the rail network between Austria and Czechia. A Vienna – Brno – Prague route will become the main international axis and will be expanded into a high-speed line in the future as part of a route called Via Vindobona, which will extend further to Berlin. This high-speed connection was already agreed to in 2021.

This should reduce the target travel time from Vienna to Berlin to around 4 hours and from Vienna to Prague to around 2 hours and 30 minutes. In Austria, part of the railway will be expanded to up to 200 kilometers per hour in the coming years.

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The ministers also discussed long-term plans for direct trains from Vienna to Pilsen. These expansions will start in the next few years and are expected to be completed by 2032. The travel time from Vienna to Pilsen can be reduced by around 50 minutes, to around 4 hours and 45 minutes. A railway route between Prague, Linz, and Salzburg is also being planned.

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