Europe with Bike – Austria
The Austrian standard gauge network is about 5,700 km in length. Map The OeBB – Österreichische Bundesbahn, Austrian Federal Railways, runs several hundred mainline passenger trains and goodness knows how many regional and local trains daily, and it is bicyclist-friendly. Bicycles can be carried in practically all trains including ‘railjet’ high speed trains too (see below). Tickets can be purchased from the usual agents and online: http://www.oebb.at/en/index.jsp.
Travelling to Austria is described in ‘Taking your bicycle by bus, train and ship across Europe’.
The ÖBB railjet high speed trains now connect major centres in Austria, as well as its neighbouring countries with high speed trains running at top speeds of 230 km/h: Vienna via Salzburg, Innsbruck and Bregenz to Zurich, via Graz and Klagenfurt to Villach or Budapest – Vienna – Munich. Some of the latter trains run on to Stuttgart, Mannheim or Frankfurt/Main. The railjet trains have also run from Graz via Vienna and Brno to Prague at two-hourly interval since December 2014.
There are three classes: Economy, First and Premium (25 Euros plus First Class fare*). Until now, no bikes have been allowed except folders and even then only in a bag. Each of the 51 Railjet trains is being modified to take five bicycles. At the moment several railjet trains a day on the Austrian services and also to Zurich in Switzerland offer bike slots. By the end of 2016 all of these trains will take bicycles, but probably not the trains running into Germany. Deutsche Bahn which has fought and still is fighting tooth and nail against putting bike slots on the ICE German high speed trains does wish to demonstrate that high speed trains and bicycles are compatible.
* For the extra cost you not only get leather seats and more legroom, but more importantly, you are addressed as Herr or Frau Doktor or even Herr Professor. The Austrians are big on titles.
EC and IC trains link major centres. The majority carry accompanied bicycles. Reservation is necessary.
Local and regional passenger trains always take bicycles, but reservation is not possible.
Westbahn is a private railway company running trains from Vienna to Salzburg via Linz. There is an hourly service for much of the day. Standard fares are often cheaper than OeBB fares. The single passenger fare on Westbahn from Vienna to Salzburg is 24.90 Euro. A bicycle costs 5 Euro, if pre-booked, and 10 Euro for a ticket bought on the train. The equivalent OeBB fares are between 24 and 52 Euro + 10% surcharge for a bicycle. Tickets can be bought in Trafiken (tobacconists) in Austria, online from www.westbahn.at and on the trains. As usual tandems are not carried. OeBB and other state railway companies’ tickets are not valid. Travel times are similar for both OeBB and Westbahn.
If one wishes to travel onto Munich using a Westbahn train, bear in mind that it is necessary to change in Salzburg to a German regional train. It is not possible to buy these tickets on the Westbahn train, and it is better to buy them before you join the Westbahn, as the connection in Salzburg is only ten minutes. The cost of a Salzburg – Munich standard ticket is 30.70 Euro plus 5 Euro per bicycle at the time of writing. The combined cost of these two tickets Vienna-Salzburg and Salzburg-Munich is much higher that the Sparscheine Europa tickets offered by OeBB and discussed below. However Westbahn has a number of special offers which can be found on the company’s website.
Popular Cycling Areas in Austria
The most popular cycling route in Austria is the Danube Valley. It is very popular, so be warned. The Austrian section of the Danube starts in Passau in Germany on the Austrian border and runs down to Vienna and a little way beyond.
A particular favourite of ours is the Tauern Route from the Krimml waterfall near Zell-am-See to Salzburg and on to Passau. It is a pleasant week’s cycling on well signposted tracks with good Alpine views but little climbing, just as we like it.
Tickets can be purchased from the usual agents and online: www.oebb.at/en/index.jsp. ÖBB’s ticket pricing policy has all the clarity of a discount airlines’ marketing policy.
ÖBB offers a cheap ticket similar to the DB (German Railways) Schönes Wochenende ticket called Einfach raus. Most of interest for cyclists will be the Einfach raus Radticket which includes bicycle tickets. It costs 42 Euro for two persons and 54 Euros for up to 5 people, valid for local and regional trains, after 09:00 until 03:00 the next morning from Monday to Friday, and all day weekends and public holidays.
Lower price special offer ticket with restrictive conditions are available for foreign destinations. There are a limited number of Sparscheine cheap tickets for internal and international travel starting at 9 Euro for some internal trips and 19 Euro for international trains. These tickets limit travellers to a specified train, but are a bargain if one can plan ahead.
Getting you and your bike on a train
This service does not come free of charge. Bicycle tickets on inland trains cost 10% of the second class fare, at least two Euro. In long distance trains cyclists will also need to reserve a bike slot which costs 3 Euro if booked online and 3.50 Euro if booked from a ticket office. An international bicycle ticket costs 12 Euro. As usual, tandems, recumbents and bicycles with 29” wheels and larger can only be carried in special luggage vans. These cannot be booked online.
It is not possible to reserve a bike slot on local, regional or suburban trains. Bicycles can only be carried on these trains if enough room is available. Although dismantled or folded bikes packed in box or bag travel for free, they must fit into the luggage space. However in our experience it is often better if travelling for say an hour or so within Austria to take local trains as opposed to long distance trains as they often offer low level loading rather than the ‘Eiger North Wall steps’ on many Austrian long distance train carriages.
Ferries and Ships
ÖBB run ships on Lake Constance west of Bregenz. These take bikes by the container load.
There are not as many services on the Danube as on the Rhine, but Brandner (www.ms-austria.at/partner/brandner/) does run trips from Melk to Krems through what the company describes as the prettiest part of the Danube.
We went to Toblach/Dobaccio one winter’s day and were most impressed by the run from Munich to Innsbruck and then the climb up the Brenner Pass. This is followed by the high speed descent down the Brenner and the bar on Franzenfeste station, but that is another story and in Italy.