- The first steam engine on Austrian rail lines began operation in 1837; it replaced the horses that had up until then been drawing carriages along the tracks. Until the Seven Weeks’ War between Austria and Prussia, small private companies ran most of the Habsburg Empire’s trains. Austria’s defeat led both government ministers and legislators to worry about the military and commercial drawbacks of a fragmented and inefficient rail network. Initial routes went between major cities in the Austrian lands—Vienna–Linz, Vienna–Graz, for example—but not to secondary centers such as Innsbruck. Non-Austrian Habsburg holdings were better served. The first steam locomotive line in the empire ran from Vienna to Olomouc in Moravia. Only after 1873 did construction of secondary lines within the Austrian lands themselves pick up.The empire had started nationalizing its rail lines in 1841, but fiscal pressures forced the government to restore them to private companies in 1854. Systematic nationalization remained a priority of the monarchy, especially because Germany was already far along in the process. The cost of these changes, however, was great and slowed down their implementation. The regime in Vienna not only had to buy out these firms, but often had to take responsibility for company benefits promised to workers. Yet another asset to be purchased was property connected with rail transportation, such as mines. The southern stretch of the Austrian railroad lines remained private until 1923.For all these difficulties, the Austrian railroads were technologically progressive. Electrified rails operated locally in the Habsburg Empire after 1883. By 1887, they functioned dependably enough to withdraw steam engines. Some of the latter were, however, kept in reserve on the line in case the electric conveyance failed. The Habsburg Empire went to great lengths to maintain the system. In 1910, the state spent more for railroads than any other single budgetary item.Rail transport was adapted to intraurban use as well. City trams started using electric power in 1895. Construction of the Vienna City Rail Line (Stadtbahn), which encircled an inner perimeter of the city, began in 1893. Following existing tracks, its stations and station facilities were planned and designed by the architect Otto Wagner. The service was available to the public in 1898, though construction was not finished until 1902. It was fully electrified between 1923 and 1925. The national rail system also stepped up its conversion to electric power after World War I to take the place of coal now lying in other successor states to the Habsburg Empire.The allied occupation ended its control of Austrian railroads in 1946. A major first step in their rehabilitation was restarting the electrification program, which eventually took steam power out of the system altogether. The Second Republic also sponsored a major expansion of mass rail transportation, especially in the Vienna metropolitan area. A rapid transit line (Schnellbahn) that runs circumferentially in the city was extended to Lower Austria in 1962. It has expanded considerably since then. Construction of the Vienna subway began in 1969; in 2007 it was still ongoing. Incorporating some of the routes of the former Stadtbahn, the network carried passengers over 46 kilometers of track by 1993.
Historical dictionary of Austria. Paula Sutter Fichtner. 2014.
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