A new local rail service from Villach in Austria over the nearby border to Udine in Italy was launched this week. Good news for local travellers in this part of the eastern Alps. The route is also served by an Austrian Railways express bus service that runs non-stop from Villach to Udine four or five times daily (as part of a longer itinerary: Klagenfurt - Villach- Udine - Venice). The bus requires advance reservation, but the new train service does not. In our book, that’s a big plus for the train.
The new cross-border train service runs twice daily in each direction. Departures are from Villach at 09.40 and 19.29. Northbound departures from Udine are at 07.00 and 17.15. The journey time is just under two hours.
The trains serve ten intermediate stations, four in Austria and six on the Italian side of the border. The largest community of any size en route is Tarvisio. The town’s railway station (called Tarvisio Boscoverde) is an assertively modern affair inconveniently situated about a 40 minute walk from Tarvisio itself. The station was built as a showpiece gateway station for travellers arriving in Italy from Austria. Oddly, not long after it was completed, most of the cross-border trains on this route were replaced by buses. So much for coordinated planning.
Over the last year or two, the only international passenger trains to serve Tarvisio have been night train services. This cross-border rail route is however an important freight corridor and the line looks set to have a busy summer as it takes some traffic diverted from the Brenner route (another route linking Italy and Austria, much further west, and one currently being rebuilt and therefore closed at various times over the coming weeks).
One way adult single fares from Villach Hauptbahnhof on the new trains are €5.40 to Tarvisio Boscoverde and €12 to Udine. (The existing Austrian Railways express bus from Villach to Udine also has a standard fare of €12). There are generous discounts for kids and seniors on the new train. For example, anyone aged 60 or over can travel from Villach to Udine for just €6.
The new train service is operated by Ferrovie Udine Cividale (FUC), the local Italian company which already runs the Udine to Cividale rail service (which happens to get our vote as one of the most appealing short train rides in the Friuli region, not least because the destination, Cividale, is a real gem of a small town). FUC's new cross-border link has EU support under a project with the splendid name Miglioramento dei Collegamenti transfrontalieri di Trasporto pubblico. Don’t you just love those EU project names? Naturally there’s an acronym to go with it: MICROTRA. And we see that locally in the Villach area the new cross-border rail service is already being referred to as ‘der MICROTRA-Zug’.
Times for the new service already appear in both the Austrian (ÖBB) and Italian (Trenitalia) online information systems. Tickets cannot be booked online, nor indeed is there any need to book. We understand that regular SCIC (international tariff) tickets may not be valid on this service. FUC's other route, that from Udine to Cividale, lies outwith the standard Trenitalia tariff system, so chances are that this may also apply to Udine to Villach. We would be interested to hear from travellers who have used (or endeavoured to use) InterRail or Eurail passes on the new local trains from Villach into Italy. We are unsure if such passes will be accepted.
Will this new cross-border link survive? It’ll be interesting to see. Our analysis of the fate of similar short cross-border hops within the EU, published earlier this year in hidden europe magazine, suggests that a certain degree of scepticism might be in order. The half-life of such links has been all too short. Try it while it lasts.