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The Old Westbahn (1)

by DoDo Wed Jun 27th, 2012 at 05:01:17 AM EST

The Westbahn, running west from Vienna to Salzburg, is Austria's busiest mainline. To increase capacity and speeds, the Vienna–Linz stretch is being quadruple-tracked. The project is broken into several sections, with work on-going since the nineties. The most challenging section is right at the start: between Vienna and St. Pölten, where the old line crosses a pass of the Wienerwald mountains at the end of the Alps, the extra two tracks get a more level alignment with a 26 km base tunnel.

When this section enters service at the end of this year, express trains and some types of freight trains will disappear from the then 154 year old classic line – so back in April, I made a photo tour to document the last spring with all the trains climbing the mountains.

A Stadler KISS double-deck electric multiple unit of open-access operator WESTbahn is caught by the first rays of the setting Sun after a storm near Dürrwien

In this first photo diary, I'll follow the line from the junction with the new line to the summit of the Wienerwald crossing, on the northern side of the valley of the Wien (Vienna) river (which gave its name to the city).

The 26 km base tunnel is a complicated structure. One branch of its forking eastern end creates a connection towards Vienna's future main station (Hbf on the map below, adapted from Thorsten Büker), the first platforms of which open this year too. To connect with the old Westbahn, near half-distance between the portals, there is a cut-and-cover underground junction with an (also new) 2 km tunnel running parallel to and under the old line. So the two bored sections of the base tunnel have separate names: Lainzer Tunnel and Wienerwald Tunnel.

My photo diary traces the line rather than following a chronological order, starting in the station beyond the underground junction, Unter Purkersdorf. While local trains use the old surface line that connects to the south side of the station, the extra two tracks along the old line, presently used by through trains, emerge from the 2 km cut-and-cover tunnel on the north side of the station. An ICE–T semi-high-speed electric multiple unit (EMU) of German Railways DB, en route to Frankfurt, passes rail employees collecting rubbish – the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) still values clean infrastructure.

The line then crosses the core of Purkersdorf, a town dominated by the healthcare sector, full of pensioners. On this section, there are three levels of local passenger transport; this Bombardier Talent runs in the shortest, the S-Bahn (suburban rapid transit) service which only reaches Rekawinkel.

The line then starts to climb the valley side on a long section walled in by noise barriers, which end at the modernised but still picturesque stop of Unter Tullnerbach, where I caught another Talent before a rain started.

Next to the walkway to the station, a funny local nailed ÖBB-style signs on the crossbeam of his garage, claiming the sheds to be train platforms:

Looking downvalley from a spot a bit further up, a Stadler KISS of open-access operator WESTbahn climbs the grade in front of the high valley side:

At this point there is a reservoir on the Wien river. In the background of the bridge over the fish ladder, a Siemens EuroSprinter ES64U2 "Taurus" climbs the slope with a freight train probably carrying coal:

At the upper end of the reservoir, the valley side is low but steep. Another "Taurus" is on the descent to Vienna with a normal IC train:

The line climbs higher on the valley side, crossing side valleys on ever higher earthen dams in a scenery increasingly dominated by villas and hotels and sanatoriums of the pre-WWI era and weekend bungalows of the post-WWII era. (The complex on the hillside on the left is the Sacre Coeur Pressbaum, an originally girls-only Catholic boarding school established in 1892.) A two-trainset railjet (ÖBB's "flagship" long-distance passenger trains, the ones facing the WESTbahn competition) passes Tullnerbach-Pressbaum station, en route from Munich to Budapest:

Further up, a limited-stop REX train (the third level of local trains, running well beyond St. Pölten) crosses another side valley to arrive in Pressbaum, with the back of the Sacre Coeur in the background. This is an odd composition with both singe-deck and double-deck cars and two class 1144 locos.

At the time, workers were just finishing a new underpass. The connected bike road struck me as odd in this mountainous area, but it already had users. (The one negative I saw in all the station renovation work was the elimination of station toilets.) Also on the photo from the opposite side of the tracks, another of the bi-hourly ICEs to Frankfurt (this time an ICE–T owned by ÖBB).

I abandoned my lunch on the south platform when this Bombardier TRAXX (class 185 of the German Railways DB) came with a cement train – on the 'wrong' track (to enable the passing of a faster train). The cement cars created such an air turbulence that the sandwitch and fruit juice making up my lunch was gone...

Some distance from Pressbaum, there is an odd level crossing: it is closed by default, but there is a signal button (on the orange box) to request its opening from train dispatchers. The bent table to the right suggests the next underpass as alternative, except it is of limited height.

The next side valley crossing (also shown above the fold) is part of a wide S-curve, which ends in the S-Bahn-only stop of Dürrwien. Here a "Taurus" with a normal IC train climbs it:

On the descent is this lightly occupied piggyback train (the German name, Rollende Landstraße or short RoLa, is funnier: it means rolling country road), in the tow of a Hungarian State Railways MÁV class 470 "Taurus":

The valley bottom "catches up" with the rail line at the entrance of summit station Rekawinkel. Below, a rail traffic jam caused by a little delay of a fourth train not visible, something bound to happen on this busy line:

  • the Talent on the left is an S-Bahn about to return to Vienna, waiting to cross to the Vienna-bound tracks;
  • it is held up by the loco-pulled train in the distance, a St.-Pölten-bound R train (second level of local trains), which is waiting to cross to the 'wrong' tracks (to let a fifth, express train overtake it),
  • the R train is in turn held up by the late WESTbahn train, which itself was delayed by a railjet which is scheduled five minutes before it.

Also notice the wagonload freight traffic on the right edge.

A century ago, Rekawinkel used to be a place of weekend escape and climatic health resort for Vienna citizens – the representative and (for its present low passenger usage) oversized station building and the closed belle epoque hotel above it are the mementos of this era. The longer train headed by an older class 1142 (but with fresher paint) and a newer class 1144 loco is a REX.

Another KISS enters the short summit tunnel at the western end of Rekawinkel station:

The second part will portray the descent on the eastern side of the Wienerwald mountains.

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Check the Train Blogging index page for a (hopefully) complete list of ET diaries and stories related to railways and trains.

It was true April weather when I was there. At Rekawinkel, I made some shots of a downpour back-lit by sunlight:

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jun 24th, 2012 at 02:47:05 PM EST
wow, fantastic photos, as usual.

Just out of interest, what are the average gradients on these sections. They look pretty fearsome and must have been quite a spectacle in the days of proper railways

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Jun 25th, 2012 at 12:57:45 PM EST
The steepest gradients are 10‰. Not too brutal, but enough for some acoustic spectacle even in the age of modern electrics: at the end of a downpour, I witnessed an uphill freight train pulled by a TRAXX loco: it was slowed down to around 30-40 km/h, and the loco (which was probably sanding heavily) made a loud noise of mixed low and high tones which you don't normally get to hear. (Of course, the same with one of Gölsdorf's steaming monsters would have been a much greater spectacle.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jun 25th, 2012 at 02:43:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I should imagine a heavily loaded kreigslok 2-10-0 would have made a decent din as well

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Jun 25th, 2012 at 04:07:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great pix as usual.

The idea of a crossing gate that defaults to the "closed" position is interesting. Is that common? I wonder what the accident statistics are like compared to a regular crossing?

by asdf on Mon Jun 25th, 2012 at 04:48:07 PM EST
It's the first I saw, a real oddity. In Hungary, there is a rule for railways that no crossing gate can be kept closed for more than 15 minutes; and this Austrian level crossing probably can only exist with a special exception rule, too. (I have a copy of Austrian traffic rules at work, I'll check tomorrow.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jun 25th, 2012 at 04:56:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm anxious to take this line. I love the cultural offerings in Vienna, and Salzburg is just a short bus trip from my village.  Thanks for the info.

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher
by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Tue Jun 26th, 2012 at 06:39:14 AM EST

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