Demand for Long-distance International Passenger Rail: Case Study Vindobona

Demand for Long-distance International Passenger Rail: Case Study Vindobona


Simon Field, Universität für Bodenkultur Wien


Demand for long-distance international rail travel in Europe is poorly understood. Surveys on direct daytime trains between Berlin and Vienna were undertaken to characterise demand and predict the effects of their forthcoming withdrawal.


This paper explores the nature of demand for long-distance rail travel, the needs of passengers and assesses the likely impacts of service cuts that reduce the number of direct connections between major cities in Europe.

In recent years many long-distance international passenger trains in Europe have disappeared from schedules. There are a number of reasons for this, including but not limited to competition from low-cost airlines, increasing operating costs, the replacement of interoperable rolling stock with bespoke designs and timetabling issues. Although it is widely believed that rail is unable to compete with air times of over 4 hours, this disregards rail’s unique advantages of comfort, city centre to city centre convenience, the opportunity to use travel time productively and - in the case of leisure journeys - travel as a desirable activity in its own right rather than a purely derived demand, the market for which has hitherto been poorly studied.

Two hypotheses were tested: (i) a non-trivial number of passengers undertake rail journeys of 7+ hours between north-east Germany and Austria, and (ii) that a significant proportion of these passengers would no longer do so if forced to change train (more often). Passenger surveys were carried out on board the only direct day train between Berlin and Vienna - the EuroCity Vindobona - in order to quantify demand, explore the reasons why rail is chosen and predict changes in travel behaviour following withdrawal of the service in December 2014. 51% of respondents making journeys between Germany and Austria (n=240) cited no/fewer changes as their first reason for choosing the surveyed train. Only 33% of these passengers would definitely continue to use rail if required to change train. Price effects were also examined, with 49% of passengers claiming not to have compared fares between modes. Only 24% said that rail was cheaper than at least one other mode, while 15% described the fare paid as inexpensive. Although further data analysis is yet to be undertaken, preliminary results suggest the leisure travel market on this long-distance route is more sensitive to disruptive interchange penalty than other factors, with implications for passenger losses to other modes.

The paper then discusses a raft of policy, operational and other practical measures to attract passengers and improve the economics of the international passenger train network in Europe, drawing on the survey findings and best practice. In conclusion, transport policy and rail operators alike should seek to develop the medium- to long-distance rail market by respectively improving the framework conditions for and increasing the provision of direct services between major European cities, thus contributing to the goals of the last EC Transport White Paper to promote modal shift and cut transport CO2 emissions by 60% by 2050.


Association for European Transport