- Commercial and military needs triggered the development of modern transportation networks in the Austrian lands of the Habsburg Empire. By the beginning of the 18th century, the dynasty’s ministers knew well that overseas trade had enriched royal treasuries in Great Britain and France and wished to encourage such activity where they could. Among the first measures they took was to extend overland roads. Construction of a route between Trieste and Salzburg was underway by 1717. Another over the Brenner Pass was begun in 1728.The historic avenues of Austrian trade were along and on rivers, chiefly the Danube. Following the Ottoman Empire’s evacuation of Hungary in 1699, commerce increased greatly along this route as well. Though railroads changed the face of the transportation infrastructure of the 19th-century Habsburg monarchy, the Danube trade was still central to its economy. In 1829, an English consortium founded the Danubian Steamship Transportation Company. By 1830, its vessels were running to Budapest and, after 1834, to the mouth of the river itself.Supported in 1836 by Imperial Chancellor Metternich and bank capital from Rothschild financiers, a consortium of insurance companies founded the Austrian Lloyd Company in Trieste. The city, part of Habsburg dynastic land since the end of the 14th century, would become the hub of the empire’s overseas trade, with lanes to the Middle and Far East and the Americas. By 1854, Austrian Lloyd had a fleet of 60 ships.The Habsburg Empire’s densest transportation network, however, was its railroads. Built in fits and starts after the 1830s, their first mission was to bring together the empire as a whole, and only later the Austrian lands alone. By 1896, a minister for railroads had a portfolio in the Habsburg government. With mountain tracks put down after 1900, the Austrian territory of the Habsburg Empire was well linked by rail by 1912.A network of postal buses that helped to link rural and lesspopulated areas of Austria to larger transportation facilities began operation in 1907. Initially financed by both the postal system and local communes, it was largely taken over by the former during the interwar era. After World War II, it was systematically coordinated with railroad schedules.Drawn by horses, the first Vienna streetcars began service in 1865; the Vienna Tramway Company built and ran streetcars in the immediate suburbs of the capital. Other major Austrian cities also introduced similar systems and converted them to electric power, as did Vienna, from 1895 through the first decades of the 20th century.Under Mayor Karl Lueger, all of Vienna’s municipal transportation lines were electrified. There were also a few steam-powered tramway lines.By the 1990s, streetcar ridership in Austria had begun to decline in favor of bus and subway transportation. The groundbreaking for the latter, financed in part by a special tax on Vienna’s businesses, was in November 1969; the network has grown incrementally since that time. But the most vigorous part of the Austrian transportation sector since World Was II has been automotive traffic, both freight and personal. Planned between 1938 and 1940, the Austrian Autobahn (super highway) has become a major thoroughfare for domestic traffic and international truckers and tourists, particularly on the system’s north–south axis. With its first route, Salzburg–Linz–Vienna, completed in 1968, the Autobahn now covers roughly 1,700 kilometers. Civil air service under full Austrian control got underway in June 1955. Air Austria, the first Austrian airline, opened in 1956; a year later it merged with Austrian Airways to form Austrian Airlines (AUA). It began transatlantic travel in 1969. When it began weekly service to Moscow in 1959, AUA was one of the first airlines in the Western world to fly there. Under competitive pressure that has never let up, AUA discontinued its domestic service in 1970, turning it over to smaller lines. Now part of the Star Alliance that includes the German airline Lufthansa, it has experienced continued financial difficulties. Repeated bids from airlines such as Lufthansa to buy Austrian state shares in AUA have been rebuffed by both major political parties, the Austrian People’s Party and the Socialist Party of Austria, on the grounds that such a move would cost Austrians many jobs.
Historical dictionary of Austria. Paula Sutter Fichtner. 2014.
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