The Semmeringbahn.

The greatest obstacle to building a railroad connection to the southern part of the monarchy were the mountains. For about ten years a railroad trip to the southern parts of the monarchy ended in Gloggnitz and for people trying to reach the northern parts and Vienna, in Murzzuschlag.  Both had to transfer to horse drawn carriages, for a treacherous road trip over the Semmering Pass.

With the opening of the railroad between Vienna and Gloggnitz on May 5, 1842 the monarchy was requesting that the rail line be continued over the Semmering. It issued a royal decree on Aug. 8 1842 to that purpose. On Jan. 31 1844 the general plans for the whole project were presented by Carl Ghega to the Director of  State Railways, Franscesconi. With the opening of the rail link between Graz and Murzzuschlag on Oct. 21 1844 the southern terminal was also ready. However, political circumstances and severe doubt about the technical feasibility of the project, (there was no precedent for the construction of the 1430m main tunnel) caused the plans to remain shelved for another four years. It was actually the revolution of 1848 that stirred the project back into action.

If one includes the work on the part from Gloggnitz to Payerbach, the construction of the Semmeringbahn started in 1848. At the beginning the aim was to create quickly a place to employ many of the unemployed workers of the period. At start of construction 5000 workers had to be transported to the site daily from Vienna.

Strictly speaking, the Semmeringbahn was not the first mountain railroad. It was however the first mountain railroad to operate at such heights (898m) and to overcome an, at that time unheard of, height difference of 457m. On its 41.8km of length it had 15 Tunnels (total length of 5.4km) and 16 large stone built viaducts (total length 1.5km). About 1.4 million cubic meter of rock was removed using explosives. For blasting only Black Powder, with its low explosive yield, was available. Due to Carl Ghega’s refusal to use iron or steel as construction materials, 65 million bricks and 80,000 stone blocks were used.

With more than 20,000 people employed at the height of  the project and given the enormous technical difficulties,  very few lives were actually lost due to accidents. More than 1000 workers however died of Cholera and Typhus due to the primitive accommodations and living conditions.

There was also much criticism expressed about the “Ghega Trasse” by George Stephenson and the Association of Austrian Engineers and Architects. It was, so they said, questionable that the locomotives can manage to climb the grades the railroad was to be build at. Two years after the start of construction Carl Ghega called for a competition of “Mountain Locomotives” to establish if those engines were suitable for his newly constructed railroad. All of the four locomotives (Wr. Neustadt, Vindobona, Seraing and Bavaria) fulfilled the requirement of pulling 140 tonnes with a speed of 11 km/hr on the steepest part of the line.

The actual mountainous part of the railway was completed in 1854 after only five years of construction. On Oct. 23 and 24 the first test run over the whole distance was carried out.  The first scheduled train traversed the Semmering Pass on July 17, 1854. The line was designed for a 6 ton axle load and a train was limited to 140 tons. In 1860 the trip from Gloggnitz to Murzzuschlag took 2hrs 4min.

The Builder - Carl Ritter von Ghega.

Born on Jan.10, 1802 to a civil servant of the Austrian Navy in Venice, he had a fascinating career. In 1819 at age 17, he was already Doctor in Mathematics and was employed as an engineer for the city works department of Venice shortly thereafter.  In 1835 he started to work for the Staatsbahn and in 1842 after the monarchy implemented a new agency for railroad development, he was made responsible for the development of railways in the southern part of the monarchy. After finishing the design stage of the Semmeringbahn in 1844 he was in charge of its construction from 1848 to 1854. Knighted in 1851 he died due to a lung ailment on March 14, 1860.