A Railjet operated by Czech Railways (CD). Here at Brno station (photo © Michal Kapes / dreamstime.com).
Since the first Railjet trains took to the rails a dozen years ago, these services have always seemed to us to offer more than merely a train service. For us, the Railjet has been a powerful symbol of connectivity and hope in a Europe which embodies cooperative values.
The Railjet trains are run by the Austrian and Czech national rail operators (ÖBB and CD) and come in two distinctive liveries: a red-and-grey mix for the Austrian trains, a striking blue-and-white design for the Czech ones.
Railjets are ambitious border crossers, but of course they also serve some longish domestic routes like the regular 718-km run from Bregenz, on the shores of Lake Constance, to Vienna Airport. That’s a journey which takes seven hours. And even this apparent domestic Austrian journey actually includes a short stretch traversing German territory where the train does not make any scheduled stops.
Railjets bring Europe together. Every day, they set off from Zürich for distant Bratislava and Budapest, the latter a journey of over a thousand kilometres. Each route takes in four countries (including tiny Liechtenstein).
Railjets run regularly from Budapest and Vienna to Munich in Germany, but they have only rarely ventured beyond Munich. The current schedules show one daily train which runs on beyond the Bavarian capital to Stuttgart, where it overnights, leaving again at seven in the morning to return to Budapest. It is the only direct train from Stuttgart to Hungary. Last winter, and again from early November this year, an Austrian Railjet will make a weekly sortie to Frankfurt-am-Main.
But Railjets break new ground this coming week with the launch of the first ever regular Railjet link to eastern Germany. At 10.26 on Monday 15 June, a Czech Railjet will leave Graz in the Austrian state of Styria and travel via the beautiful Semmering mountain railway to Vienna, continuing from the Austrian capital on via Prague and Dresden to Berlin. The train terminates at Charlottenburg station in Berlin at 22.05.
So it takes just short of 12 hours for a journey of around 1,000 kilometres. Railjets, you’ll gather, are not always high-speed. The Graz to Berlin train makes a score of intermediate stops on its journey. Mind you, there are Railjets which make even more stops on a domestic journey wholly within Austria.
It’s wonderful to see the launch of this new service between Graz and Berlin. It’s a route which also brings some regions of central Europe closer together: a direct train from Saxony to Styria, and a new level of comfort and service on journeys between Bohemia and Brandenburg. It’s a route which takes in contrasting landscapes including two exceptionally fine stretches of railway, viz. the Semmering line through the Austrian Alps and the Elbe Valley railway from Decín to Dresden.
The southbound service starts at Berlin Hauptbahnhof, rather than Charlottenburg, with a scheduled departure time of 06.17. The Railjet reaches Graz at 17.33. For those who still haven’t tired of rail travel, there’s a connecting early evening Eurocity service from Graz to Zagreb. It’s been a while since one could so easily make a daytime journey from Berlin to Zagreb with just one change of train.
This striking addition to the Railjet network tempts us to speculate where Railjet might venture next.
There are already routes into northern Italy, with Austrian Railjets offering twice daily services from Vienna to Venice and a daily run from Vienna to Bolzano. But is there not scope for double-daily services in each direction between Vienna and Trieste – with a morning run out from the Austrian capital via Ljubljana and then an afternoon Railjet from Vienna to Trieste via Tarvisio and Udine?
And, to ensure that the Slovenian capital gets two Railjets each day, why not extend the new Berlin to Graz service to Ljubljana? The existing 17.33 arrival in Graz leaves plenty of scope for a onward journey to reach Ljubljana around 21.00. A return from Ljubljana at 06.45 each morning leaves ample time to pick up the current 10.26 timing from Graz to Berlin.