Semmering Railway (World Heritage)

The Semmering Railway was the first mountain railway with standard gauge. The railway line was opened in 1854 and is considered a technical masterpiece and a milestone in railway history. The railway line, which blends harmoniously into the landscape with viaducts and tunnels and initiated the tourist discovery of the Alps, is still fascinating today.

Semmeringbahn: facts

Official title: Semmering Railway with the surrounding landscape
Cultural monument: a 41 km long railway connection over the Semmering with 15 tunnels, 16 viaducts and 129 bridges; Use of 64.5 million bricks for the construction of the engineering structures; 1,048 people died during the construction of the Semmering Railway as a result of illness or accident; Semmering as a literary theme in Stefan Zweig’s “Burning Secret” and Karl Kraus’ “The Last Days of Mankind”
Continent: Europe
Country: Austria, Lower Austria and Styria
Location: between Gloggnitz and Mürzzuschlag
Appointment: 1998
Meaning: an outstanding engineering achievement in overcoming special physical problems in the construction of one of the first mountain railways in the world

Semmering Railway: History

1803 Trips by the builder Karl Friedrich Schinkel and the writer Johann Gottfried Seume to Semmering
1839-1841 Construction of a road over the Semmering
1848-1854 Construction of the Semmering Railway
1851 Delivery of four locomotives, including the »Seraing« from John Cockerill (Belgium)
1851 the “father of the Semmering Railway”, Karl Ghega, is ennobled
May 15, 1854 Clearance of the route for freight traffic
July 17, 1854 Approval for passenger traffic
1882 Construction of the luxurious Südbahnhotel
1948 After the turmoil of the war and post-war reopening of the Südbahnhotel
2012 First groundbreaking for the tunneling under the historic Semmering Railway (Semmering Base Tunnel) from Gloggnitz to Mürzzuschlag for the high-speed line of the Southern Railway; Planned completion of the 27.3 km long tunnel: 2026. The section will allow a speed of up to 230 km / h. In order to maintain the Unesco world cultural heritage status, requirements such as For example, general maintenance measures, the landscaping of the new tunnel portals and the harmonization of the two routes into a “twin railway” have been enacted.

Technology, nature and politics

It was a risk, a controversial political decision, but the boldness and pioneering spirit of the engineers ultimately won.

According to businesscarriers, The idea of ​​a railway connection between Vienna and Trieste – between the capital and the access to the sea – appeared for the first time as early as 1829. More than twelve years later, the Vienna-Gloggnitz line and, after another three years, the Mürzzuschlag-Graz section of the “Imperial-Royal Southern State Railway” opened. The mastering of the most difficult section, the overcoming of the Semmering, had initially been left out.

The man who solved this problem was Karl Ghega, who at the age of 17 had received his PhD in mathematics “unanimously and with distinction” from the University of Padua. After completing his studies, he entered the civil service. In April 1842 he was sent to the United States of America on a five-month study tour. During his stay in the New World, he visited 39 different railway lines. In doing so, he became convinced that it must be possible to negotiate the Semmering in locomotive operation with steeper gradients and tighter curves than was customary in railway construction up until then. In it the building principle matured that one had to drive side valleys with gradients of up to 25 per thousand in order to gain height.

In 1846, the design of the Semmering route was largely completed, and the detailed planning was also completed a year later. But a large part of the professional world considered Ghega’s project to be impracticable: counter-proposals arose, for example the construction of a less steep railway with switchbacks, the construction of funiculars, the transportation of the wagons with the help of compressed air, that is, using an “atmospheric railway”, or the Operation by means of horses.

It was the effects of the revolutionary year of 1848, in particular the need to create jobs, that prompted the new Minister for Public Works, Andreas Baumgartner, in June of that year to decide on Ghega’s rail project within a few days. A storm of indignation arose in daily newspapers and specialist journals against this decision. This was understandable, as there wasn’t even a locomotive that could cope with the gradients and route radii given by Ghega. But Ghega trusted in the development of the technology: In March 1850, a competition was announced, which ultimately led to the construction of his own “Semmering locomotive” by the civil engineer Wilhelm Engerth. After appropriate test drives, 26 units of this new type were ordered from the Cockerill company in Belgium and from the Württemberg machine factory Kessler in Esslingen. Decisive steps on the way to the realization of the Ghegaschen project had been taken.

The construction of the railway line had been tackled long before that: Thousands upon thousands subsequently found work here. On October 22, 1853, the entire length of the railroad was completed, and regular passenger and freight traffic began nine months later. The Semmeringbahn overcomes 459 meters in altitude. Almost two thirds of the route have maximum gradients of 20 to 25 per thousand; the smallest route radius is 190 meters. The difficult terrain made the construction of numerous engineering structures necessary: ​​15 tunnels and 16 viaducts along with 118 brick and eleven iron bridges.

After its completion, the railway opened up a romantic landscape that soon became the epitome of the “summer retreat” of the 19th century. Villa and hotel buildings, together with the railway line and its viaducts, bridges and other structures, turned the Semmering into a total work of art from the industrial age that has endured to this day.

Semmering Railway

You may also like...