Semmering Railway


Brief Description

The Semmering Railway, built over 41 km of high mountains between 1848 and 1854, is one of the greatest feats of civil engineering from this pioneering phase of railway building. The high standard of the tunnels, viaducts and other works has ensured the continuous use of the line up to the present day. It runs through a spectacular mountain landscape and there are many fine buildings designed for leisure activities along the way, built when the area was opened up due to the advent of the railway.

Semmering Railway. More pictures …

Justification for Inscription

Criterion (ii): The Semmering Railway represents an outstanding technological solution to a major physical problem in the construction of early railways.

Criterion (iv): With the construction of the Semmering Railway, areas of great natural beauty became more easily accessible and as a result these were developed for residential and recreational use, creating a new form of cultural landscape.

Long Description

The Semmering Railway represents an outstanding technological solution to a major physical problem in the construction of early railways. The railway, built over 41 km of high mountains between 1848 and 1854, is one of the greatest feats of civil engineering from this pioneering phase of railway building. The high standard of the tunnels, viaducts and other works has ensured the continuous use of the line to the present day. Furthermore, with its construction, areas of great natural beauty became more easily accessible and as a result these were developed for residential and recreational use, creating a new form of cultural landscape.

The transport route from the valley of the Mürz to the Vienna Depression has been used since prehistoric times. In the Middle Ages it was considered to be one of the few secure Alpine crossings. Transport was possible using pack animals and wagons drawn by oxen, and it had become one of the most important international land routes from Venice by the 12th century. However, the Semmering had lost much of its trade by the 15th century owing to the opening up of the Brenner and Radstatter Trauem routes further south. In 1728 the Emperor Karl Vl ordered it to be improved as both a commercial and a military road, joining Austria with Trieste rather than Venice (hence its name, the Trieste Route).

The first railway line (horse-drawn) of any significance on the European continent was opened in 1824-32 between Linz and Budweis (České Budejovice), and 1837 saw the installation of the locomotive-hauled line between Florisdorf and Deutsche Wagram. The southbound Vienna-Gloggnitz line opened in 1841 and the section from Mürzzuschlag to Graz was added in 1844, leaving a gap over the difficult Semmering stretch. The line was later extended southwards to Cilli in 1846, Laibach (Ljubljana) in 1849, and finally, over difficult karst terrain, to Trieste in 1857.

Most of the portals of the tunnels are simple but monumental in design, and are variously ornamented. Support structures are largely in stone, but brick was used for the arches of the viaducts and tunnel facings. The 57 two-storey attendants’ houses, sited at approximately 700 m intervals, that are a very characteristic feature of the Semmering line, were built from coursed rubble masonry with brick trimmings. Little remains of the original stations, which were planned originally as no more than relay stations and watering points, but later became converted into more impressive structures as tourist traffic increased.

The appearance of the whole line was significantly changed between 1957 and 1959, when masts were erected to carry the contact wires needed by the conversion to electrical locomotives. The Semmering pass itself is well known for the ‘summer architecture’ of the villas and hotels that were built for Viennese society between Gloggnitz and the small market town of Schottwien in picturesque locations. It became one of the first artificially laid out Alpine resorts in the decades following the opening of the railway line. This process had begun even before that project began, with the development of Reichenau an der Rax and Payerbach, to the north-west of Gloggnitz, as tourist areas in the early decades of the 19th century.

Romantic historicism influenced the appearance of the villas and hotels built in this area, a number of which have Gothic or Renaissance antecedents. The steep-gabled and fantastically ornate ‘Swiss chalet’ also found favour with many builders. The Semmering pass itself was not affected by tourist development for some time after the line opened in 1854. The Southern Railway Company, operators of the line at that time, began development in 1880, at the urging of the court sculptor, Franz Schönthaler, with the construction of the Semmering Hotel. It was, however, Schönthaler’s own villa south of the hotel that had the strongest influence on architectural design along the Semmering line. The use of traditional Alpine wooden-frame construction by his architect, Franz von Neumann, was eagerly seized upon by other patrons, and the ‘Semmering style’ predominated in the buildings erected in the latter part of the 19th century.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

Historical Description

The transport route from the valley of the Miirz to the Vienna Depression has been used since prehistoric times. In the Middle Ages it was considered to be one of the few secure Alpine crossings. Transport was possible using pack animals and wagons drawn by oxen. It had become one of the most important international land routes from Venice by the 12th century. However, the Semmering had lost much of its trade by the 15th century owing to the opening up of the Brenner and Radstatter Trauem routes further south. In 1728 the Emperor Karl VI ordered it to be improved as both a commercial and a military road, joining Austria with Trieste rather than Venice, hence its name, the “Trieste Route.” In 1841 the steep northern approach was relaid, reducing the gradient by some 5%. The new accessibility of the region brought artists and poets there, to admire the wild scenery, as well as attracting considerable commercial traffic, as the Industrial Revolution developed in the region.
The first railway line (horse-drawn) of any significance on the European continent was opened in 1824-32 between Linz and Budweis (Cesk6 Budejovice) and 1837 saw the installation of the locomotive-hauled line between Florisdorf and Deutsche Wagram. The southbound Vienna-Gloggnitz line opened in 1841 and the section from Miirzzuschlag to Graz was added in 1844, leaving a gap over the difficult Semmering stretch. The line was later extended southwards to Cilli in 1846, Laibach (Ljubljana) in 1849, and finally, over difficult karst terrain, to Trieste in 1857.
The first plan for crossing the Sernmering, involving a 1 :30 gradient, was drawn up in 1841 but not followed up for technical reasons. The project was taken up again in 1842, when Carlo Ghega was appointed Chief Inspector for the southern line, linking Vienna and Trieste. He began by visiting the USA, where he studied 39 railway lines covering 2413km. This showed him that the technical difficulties seen in the first plan were not insuperable, and he began to survey possible routes over the Semmering. Since no reliable maps were available, he had to carry out a complete survey of the area; the difficult terrain led him to develop new surveying instruments, notably the Stampfer’sche Nivellier-Hohen- und Liingenmessinstrument, used to measure height and distance, which was to become an important tool in geodetics.
He worked out several routes before settling on one in 1846. It was 42km long, with 22 major bridges and viaducts and a tunnel 1200m long, situated just below the pass; although not the simplest route, it was the most feasible in the light of the technological limitations of the day, notably the lack of powerful explosives for tunnelling. His project plan was completed in 1847, but work did not start immediately, because Ghega was engaged in the construction of the line between Cilli and Laibach.
His project met with considerable opposition , but it was accepted in June 1848 by the new Minister for Public Works, Andreas Baumgartner, who wanted projects offering substantial long-term employment prospects. Despite a storm of protest, from both specialists and the press, work began in August 1848. The entire stretch of line was divided into fourteen sections, each of which was entrusted to a separate firm. At the start 1007 men and 414 women were employed, to increase to over 20,000 as the work progressed.
The maximum gradient of 1 :25 and the exceptionally small radius curves called for a new type of locomotive, and four firms entered a public competition in 1850. None of the entries was considered to be suitable for production in series, although they met the technical requirements, and so Wilhelm von Eggerth was commissioned to combine the best features of all of them in a new design. The result was triumphantly successful and• 26 engines were immediately commissioned.
Construction work on the line and the manufacture of locomotives and rolling stock progressed well, with the result that the transport of passengers and goods over the line was able to start, on schedule, on 17 July 1854.

Source: Advisory Body Evaluation

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