Austria plans $28bn transport upgrade and confirms tunnel plans

Gerald Klug, Austria’s newly installed traffic minister, has told a press conference in Vienna that he wants to invest €25bn ($28bn) in strategic networks across the country over the next five years. The money will be spent on roads, railways and fibre-optic networks, and will include an annual research budget of €500m ($560m).

Klug also wants to continue with three controversial railway tunnel projects: the Brenner, Koralm and Semmering base tunnels, which are intended to eliminate bottlenecks in Austria’s alpine regions and form part of the trans-European network that will link Scandinavia with the Mediterranean.

Klug said: "We need the tunnel to relieve congestion in the west and the south. We will move traffic from road to rail and this will strengthen our position in the high-level transport network of central Europe."

He declined to comment on reports that he was also considering the introduction of a nationwide toll on heavy good vehicles.

Klug, a former defence minister who belongs to the social democratic party (SPÖ), was described at the conference by former transport minister Alois Stoeger as a "tunnel builder with an infinite area of responsibility".

The 64km Brenner tunnel between Austria and Italy, which is the longest underground rail link in the world if the Innsbruck bypass is included, is intended to replace the 70km/h, 140-year-old Brenner railway. Work on this began in 2006 and is due to finish in 2025; it is expected to cost $6.7bn in 2006 dollars.

The $6bn, 33-km Koralm high-speed tunnel will help cut the travel time between Graz and Klagenfurt from three hours to one. This began in 2001 and is scheduled to complete in 2021.

The $4.4bn, 27-km Semmering tunnel will connect Gloggnitz with Mürzzuschlag. After three decades of legal disputes between the federal government and the states of Lower Austria and Styria, this got under way in 2014 and is expected to finish in 2024.

The target for broadband is to create a nationwide network with 100Mbit/s speeds by 2020.

Photograph: The Semmering rail link between Gloggnitz and Mürzzuschlag – and Helsinki and Malta (Häferl/Wikimedia Commons)

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