|The First Railway in Continental Europe: The Pferdeeisenbahn
|In the 14th century, ambitious and enterprising Emperor Karl IV, Holy Roman Emperor and King of
Bohemia not only designed trade routes, but also envisioned a canal system which would link the
major rivers of Bohemia with the Dunabe, but high mountains proved to be an obstacle, and the only
project along those lines that was realized was completed much later with the construction of the
unique Scwarzenberg Canal, built through the mountains to transport timber in 1789.
The canal enabled lumber from the mountains to be transported by water from southern Bohemia to
Vienna. Within two years, the 40-kilometre long navigational canal had been carved out of the
rugged mountains, but that was the end of it. The Napoleonic Wars brought grand projects and
progress to a halt as the European world froze impotent at the feet of the French. It was the demand
for salt and a more economical method of shipping it that revived the canal idea at the dawn of the
Industrial Revolution. Continental Europe was reawakened and ambitious.
Since the Danube River in Hungary had been successfully linked to other important waterways,
Austrian Dr. Franz Josef von Gerstner, Professor of Mathematics in the University of Prague, was
choosen to study the canal idea. He found construction of a Canal was not feasible with its estimated
need of 290 locks! However, he proposed the construction of a railway line, a transport medium of
which he had heard about from England, and he advocated a horse railway from Linz to Joachis-
mühle in 1807, but he left the project in the hands of his son, Franz Anton Gerstner, himself
a professor of engineering in Vienna.
The young Gerstner built a model which he brought to the Royal Palace in Vienna where Emperor
Franz I granted him the exclusive right to start work, and in September, 1824, the building of a wood
and iron road between Mauthausen on the Danube and Budweis, situated on the Moldau. The First
Austrian Railway Company was formed, the old Salt Route becoming an integral part of the new
On July 28,1825 in Böhemia near Netrobitz, the work began. The establishment of a railway was a
new idea and great difficulties arose from the beginning, but in September, 1827 the first trains ran
between Trojern and Budweis, and the 129 kilometre journey could now be completed in 14 hours,
instead of three days. The horse-railway could handle loads three-times heavier than could normal
roads and it was solid enough to be adapted for use by the steam-engine trains later.
In April, 1829 after almost four years, the line was extended from Budweis to Pramhöf, and then
later to Urfahr. The historic horse-drawn railroad which linked Gmunden to Budweis in the 1830s
was the first railway on the European continent, and was built with the main purpose of facilitating
and enhancing the transportation of salt from Upper Austria to Bohemia. However, it was used by
passengers as well.
The first cars were both open and covered. They had up to 24 seats and were divided into three
classes. Passengers could transport their personal horses on special cars. On July 21, 1832, Kaiser
Franz I. and Kaiserine Karoline Augusta arrived in an open car at Magdalena, "one of the most
graceful places, with beautiful, steep mountains in the midst of the most sumptuous vegetation, a
place under the fair shade of the largest lime tree" as described by guide books.
By the spring of 1835, the tracks crossed over the wooden Danube bridge from Urfahr connecting to
Linz, and the horse railway from Budweis Urfahr was connected with the Linz line, already in
construction. The horse railway used around the 600 horses, from which most were sturdy, rugged
and well-tempered Norik horses. They were bedecked with bells to herald their arrival. One horse
generally drew two or three carriages.
Gerstner built lighter cars for the horses to pull than those used in England, and he suggested that
wood wheels with iron hubs and bearings be used in place of heavy cast-iron wheels. Thus the Norik
mastered a outstanding daily performance of 40 km. and at greater speed with less stress. The
company owned about 1000 trucks with a load weight amounting to 2.5 to 3.5 tons. The main
freight was salt with an average of 40 barrels. Stations maintained stables for 25 to 100 horses,
blacksmiths and other workshops. In addition there was usually a restaurant for passengers.
Gerstner had run well over budget on the project, and unwilling to compromise with the project
financiers, he was fired and left for Russia, where he could build his railroads in relative peace. Once
in Russia, von Gerstner pushed through his proposal to build the St. Petersburg-Tsarskoe Selo
Railway in 1836. This inaugurated the start of railways in Russia.
By 1857, the railroad owned 96 passenger vehicles. After a time, employees wore hats and badges
and kept bottles of liquor, lanterns, and tools for horse fitting and quick repairs. Farmhands soon
discovered it was to their benefit to be polite and even entertain travelers, and some became rather
well-known for their singing and musical performances. One farmhand became famous after he
amassed a fortune amusing and entertaining passengers. The Austrian built Horse Railway was so
successful that Vienna wanted its own, and soon the Viennese Tramway developed and in the
following years dominated the transport enterprise of Vienna. Lines and stations were constructed
all over the city, and people enthusiastically travelled in style.
The building of the horse railway was a pioneering technical achievement. Carrying 190,000 persons
and 100,000 tons of goods in those years was unique for its time. Around 1855, however, the
passenger trains changed over from horses to steam engines, although the horse line continued with
other duties until it became impractical. The last regular course drawn by horses operated on
December 15, 1872.