Welcome to our guide how to save money, time and confusion when travelling in and from/to Austria by train.
Travelling by train in Austria is generally a joy!
On the majority of journeys you’ll be passing through stunning scenery and most of the stations look as though they were built or modernized yesterday.
Also the ticketing and trains are comparatively uncomplicated; though something to keep in mind that all travellers will need a form of photo identification with them such as I.D. cards or passports, so remember to have them with you even when making a rail jouney solely within Austria.
The Austrian national operator OBB has a Covid-19 update page, but the key piece of info is that its mandatory for mouths and noses to be covered with FFP2 mouth and nose protection on OBB's trains, buses and in stations.
Though OBB's usual national timetable is now operating with a full catering service available on the Railjet trains.
The temporary conditions that need to be met in order to enter Austria can be looked up here.
International services to and from Austria:
All daytime services have seemingly resumed on the international rail routes to and from Austria, though restaurant cars aren't open on the sections of the journeys outside Austria; on the EC trains to Italy a catering trolley is being taken through the train instead.
ÖBB is the national operator and it provides the majority of Austrian trains, except for:
(1) some independent scenic mountain railways
(2) the Westbahn trains, which provide alternative services to the ÖBB trains on the Wien/Vienna – Linz – Salzburg route.
ÖBB daytime train services are broadly categorised as:
(1) Railjet Express (RJX): the fastest trains on the Wien/Vienna - Salzburg - Innsbruck - St Anton - Bregenz route
(2) Railjet (RJ): the other express trains between major cities
(3) IC: the less frequent express trains to tourist resorts
(4) REX: the regional trains and the local trains outside the major cities
(5) S-Bahn: the local trains in Austrian cities (not including the Vienna Metro)
ÖBB also operates the Nightjet network, which comprises most, but not all, overnight train services from and to Austria.
The Railjet (RJX and RJ) services from and to Wien/Vienna tend to operate to fixed schedules, departing hourly or every other hour.
Many Railjet routes also extend over the border, so these trains also link Austria to Budapest, Munchen/Munich, Praha/Prague, Venezia/Venice and Zurich.
The pride of ÖBB are the Railjets which depending on your point of view are either hideously ugly or wonderfully futuristic.
However, what they definitely are is comparatively comfortable, with a wide range of catering options available, including a restaurant service.
Railjets were initially only used on the top tier express routes in Austria, but now the overwhelming majority of express train journeys are by Railjet.
On the main Wien - Linz - Salzburg - (Innsbruck) route some Railjets are faster than others, because they skip more stations; and OBB has now branded these services as 'Railjet - Express'.
On the OBB ticket booking site and on some departure screens at stations, RJX is used to designate these faster trains.
Railjets are also used on international journeys to/from:
Seats don’t HAVE to be reserved on Railjets on journeys solely within Austria and in SMTJ's experience finding a spare seat is unlikely to be a problem; unless you’re travelling at peak business hours (particularly on Fridays) OR on summer Sunday afternoons.
Though OBB ticketing service, now indicates which departures will be exceptionally busy.
Reservations are also available, but optional, on the Railjet routes to Czechia, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and Switzerland, but are mandatory and therefore included when booking tickets for journeys to and from Italy.
German ICE-T trains can also be used to travel between Wien/Vienna and Wels via Linz; a route they share with Railjet and Westbahn trains.
They are deployed on these routes between Austria and Germany:
(1) Wien – Linz – Nurnberg – Wurzburg – Frankfurt – Koln
(2) Wien – Linz – Nurnberg – Wurzburg – Kassel - Hannover - Hamburg (1 x train per day)
(3) Wien - Linz - Nurnberg - Erfurt - Halle - Berlin (1 x train per day)
Reservations are optional, but highly recommended when travelling on these ICE trains.
IC trains are more typical of standard, but comfortable, European express trains, and prior to the arrival of the Railjets, they were the top tier trains on ÖBB.
Though these IC train services are becoming quite rare, because on many routes and services, they have been replaced by Railjets in recent years.
They are now mainly used on less frequent services; some tourist destinations have only one or two direct trains per day from Wien/Vienna and IC trains are used on these services.
Austrian IC coaches are also used for the international EC (EuroCity) trains on these routes:
(1) Munchen - Innsbruck – Bolzano – Verona – Bologna/Venezia
(2) Munchen – Salzburg – Villach – Ljubljana – Zagreb
(3) Wien – Graz – Maribor - Ljubljana and Zagreb
Reservations are compulsory when travelling to Croatia, Italy, Poland and Slovenia.
Non express trains operated by ÖBB have differing categories depending if they operate in big cities or not.
Longer distance regional trains and the local trains are branded 'REX'.
Local trains to and from the larger cities are the S-Bahn services.
1st class is not usually available on REX trains or local trains, including the S-Bahn trains.
Trains operated by Westbahn compete with OBB's Railjet trains, in both drections on the Wien - Linz - Salzburg route.
Nightjet trains are operated by Austria’s national rail company, OBB, and it sets a specific and consistent standard of service for these trains on its domestic and international routes.
All international Nightjet trains convey compartment seats, couchettes, standard sleeping cabins (no showers) and deluxe sleeping cabins (with showers).
Nightjets also have a dedicated section on the OBB website.
Five Things that are good to know when using the main stations in Austria:
1. Austria’s major stations (the hauptbahnhofs) including those in Graz, Innsbruck, Linz, Salzburg and Wien/Vienna are comparatively simple to use.
They all follow a similar pattern of having underground passages that are located beneath the tracks that give access to the trains above.
There are always lifts and escalators, which connect the bahnsteigs (platforms/tracks) that the trains arrive at/depart from, with these passage ways.
You never HAVE to use the stairs at a hauptbahnhof (major station) to access the trains.
2. The signage at OBB’s stations is bi-lingual, it is in English and German, but the announcements will be in German only.
3. Announcements are generally made to alert travellers to something out of the ordinary, such as delays
If you think the announcement may be referring to your train watch the departure screens closely.
Particularly pay attention to any scrolling text to the right of the ‘nach’ column, which shows the train’s final destination.
The English translation should follow the German text, so you may need patience to find out what you need to know.
4. The major stations don’t have paper departure sheets, so you have to depend on the electronic departure screens.
Though at busy times the smaller screens will only show trains departing in around the next 25 mins.
5. If you will be changing trains at a hauptbahnhof (major station) there will be blue electronic departure summary screens on the bahnsteig (platform/track).
Though if you will be changing trains and can’t see your next train on this departure screen, the best option is usually to make your way to the main departure hall and wait there for the details of your next train to be confirmed.
You may then need to re-trace your steps, but you can often avoid this if you will be travelling on a Railljet, IC train, or on some EC trains.
While you're on the train, check the paper guide to the departure you’re travelling by, which you should find by your seat.
It will list the details of connections from your train, including the number of the bahnsteig (platform/track) which your next train SHOULD be departing from.
It's worth being aware of these six steps:
1. When looking at the main departure screens ‘Abfarht’ = departures and ‘Ankunft’ = arrivals
2. The bahnsteigs (platforms/tracks) at the hauptbahnhofs (major stations) are divided into zones - A to E.
Most trains only occupy some of these zones, they tend to be shorter than the bahnsteigs (platforms/tracks).
3. On the blue departure screens, small and large, the NUMBER of the bahnsteig (platform/track) will be listed to the right, of the list of stations that the train will be calling at.
To the right of this ‘bahnsteig’ number will be some letters and these letters are the zones on the bahnsteig (platform/track) where the train will depart from.
4. When you arrive on the bahnsteig you will see other blue screens; from a distance they look similar to the smaller version of the departure screens, but they show different information.
Those screens show the ‘Wagenreihung’, which are the formations of the next three trains to depart from the bahnsteig (platform/track).
They indicate which zone each specific coach of a train will occupy when it arrives.
So they’re very useful for working out in which zone you should wait for 1st class, or for a specific coach/wagen where a reserved seat will be located.
5. The departure indicators on the bahnsteigs (platforms/tracks) can show the details of arriving trains.
So don't be surprised if you don't initially see the details of the train you will be taking.
6. If you have a reservation or a Sparschiene ticket it will have a Zug (train) number on it; a four digit number beneath the departure date and time.
This number will also be shown in the ‘Zug’ column on the blue departure screens.
If you will be taking an international train and aren’t sure of its final destination, you may need to rely on this ‘Zug’ number to work out which bahnsteig (platform/track) your train will be leaving from.
The stations that international trains call at can be omitted from the departure screens, but you can use the ‘Zug’ number to find your train.
Tickets are available on OBB up to 6 months ahead of the travel date, but the discounted ‘Sparschiene’ tickets may not be available so far in advance, or made available on every departure on the route you will be taking.
When booking train tickets on OBB for journeys within and to/from Austria, the specific departure you will be taking and the date/day of the week you will be travelling, can matter more to the ticket prices, than how far in advance you will be booking.
When looking up journeys the only price you will initially see is the cheapest 2nd class price per departure.
You need to click on this 2nd class price in order to access a range of upgrades, which include;
The discounted tickets for journeys by RJX, RJ and IC train services and on international trains from Austria are branded as ‘Sparschiene’ tickets and these tickets can ONLY BE BOOKED online or on the OBB app.
They're usually available from 6 months ahead of the travel date, but note that they can't be booked at all at stations.
The price of ‘Sparschiene’ tickets can increase depending on how popular a departure is, the limited numbers at the very cheapest prices will inevitably sell quickly.
So it can be a good idea to search through departures to find the cheapest fares - particularly when travelling between Wien/Vienna and both Salzburg and Innsbruck.
Note the restrictions when booking Sparschiene’ tickets; both 1st AND 2nd class.
These tickets will be specific to the departure you selected when making a booking AND can't be refunded at all if YOU subsequently change your travel plans.
They also can't be exchanged to alternative, later departures.
Seat reservations are optional on RJX, RJ and IC train services, but are not available on REX trains.
Reservations are compulsory when travelling to Croatia, Italy, Poland and Slovenia.
Note that seats don't have to be reserved on Railjets on all routes within Austria or on the IC trains.
Unless you’re travelling at peak business hours (particularly on Fridays) OR on summer Sunday afternoons, finding a spare seat is unlikely to be a problem.
Though for peace of mind, you can opt to pay a reservation fee on Railjets and ICs when booking online; the OBB booking service now indicates if a specific departure will be exceptionally busy.
On the OBB trains children aged 5 and under travel for free Children aged 6 – 14 travel at half-fare, except when travelling with adults who have booked Sparschiene tickets - when up to four children can travel at no charge.
You can’t just hop on a train with your bike in Austria.
To travel by regional REX trains you will need to purchase a special bicycle ticket, which costs 10% of the full price 2nd class ticket; a minimum fee of €2 applies.
For journeys by Railjet trains; IC trains and on international EC trains within Austria, you will need to reserve a space for your bike prior to boarding; the reservation fee for bikes on these trains is €3.50.
More info about how to book these bicycle tickets is available here.
The super smart and useful ÖBB website also has its quirks
Practical info which will help ease the journeys
This is one of more than 150 train guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.