The Brenner Railway is a major line connecting the Austrian and Italian railways from Innsbruck and Verona climbing the Wipptal (German for “Wipp Valley”), passing over the Brenner Pass and descending down the Eisack Valley to Bolzano and then down the Adige Valley from Bolzano to Rovereto and from there along the section of the Adige valley called in Italian the “Vallagarina” to Verona. The line is part of the Line 1 of Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T). It is considered a "fundamental" line by the state railways Ferrovie dello Stato (FS).
The line was designed under the Austro-Hungarian Empire before the middle of the nineteenth century to ensure rapid and safe transport between Tyrol and Northern Italy, especially Lombardy–Venetia. It was thus important not only for economic but also for military reasons as Austria was strongly committed to maintaining its borders south of the Alps.
The first section to be built was that low section between Verona to Bolzano, which was opened in two different parts: 23 March 1859 from Verona to Trento and 16 May 1859 from Trento to Bolzano. This work was commenced by the k.k. Nord- und SüdTiroler Staatsbahn (German: "North and South Tyrol State Railways") but at the beginning of 1859 the company was taken over by the new Austrian Southern Railway (German: Südbahn).
The design of this section was approved on 10 July 1853 by the engineer Alois Negrelli, an employee of the Südbahn, known for having built other alpine lines and for developing a project for the Suez Canal.
Despite the loss of Veneto in the Third Italian War of Independence and the consequent shift of the border between Italy and Austria to Borghetto on the current boundary of Trentino and Verona, which occurred in October 1866, the section from Bolzano to Innsbruck was incomplete, but already under construction and it was opened on 24 August 1867. The 127 km route from Innsbruck to Bolzano took only three years to build. The main designer was the engineer, Karl von Etzel, who died in 1864 and therefore did not see the completion of his work. After the Semmering railway it was the second mountain railway built in Austria. It was also the first line to cross completely over the Alps.
The line south of Borghetto became part of the Società per le strade ferrate dell'Alta Italia (Italian for Upper Italian Railways, SFAI) in 1866 and in the 1885 reorganisation it was absorbed by the Società per le Strade Ferrate Meridionali (Adriatic Network). The line became part of Ferrovie dello Stato upon its establishment in 1905.
In 1919 Italy acquired Trentino-South Tyrol under the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and the border moved to Brenner. The line from Trento to Brenner was electrified at 3,700 V at three-phase 16.7 Hz between 1929 and 1934. Electrification was converted to 3,000 V DC on 30 May 1965.
In preparation for the proposed Brenner Base Tunnel, the Innsbruck bypass was completed in 1994 to improve access to the Lower Inn Valley railway. The bypass consists of a 12.75 kilometre tunnel (Austria's longest), which removed the bulk of the freight trains from Innsbruck. In Italy several new sections have been built, removing sections of line with several short tunnels with small cross sections. These include the 13.159 metre-long Sciliar tunnel opened in 1994, the 7.267 m-long Pflersch tunnel opened in 1999 and the 3,939 m-long Cardano tunnel opened in 1998.
Following a sharp increase in freight through the Brenner Pass (largely on road), the railway is currently considered to have insufficient capacity. Moreover, its steep grades, tight radius bends and the need to change the engines at Brenner because of two different electrical systems used in Austria and Italy mean that the average travel speed is low. For these reasons, the creation of a new line is planned from Verona to Munich via Innsbruck. At the heart of this project is a 55 kilometre-long tunnel between Franzensfeste and Innsbruck, known as the Brenner Base Tunnel.
The maximum grade on the track is 31 per thousand. The minimum curve radius is 264 metres. The highest point of the track is Brenner station at 1,371 m, which is also the highest point reached on the standard gauge networks of the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) and the Italian Ferrovie dello Stato (FS) networks.
To overcome the steep climb (796 m between Innsbruck and Brenner) two spiral tunnels were built, using the sides of a valleysat St. Jodok on the Austrian side and the sides of the Pflerschtal (German for "Pflersch Valley") on the Italian side.
At Brenner station, located on the Brenner Pass, there is a monument to the designer, Karl von Etzel. At this station, in addition to the political boundary is found the operational border between the ÖBB and FS networks. The two companies operate different electrical systems, (15,000 V AC at 16.7 Hz in Austria, and 3,000 V DC in Italy), which requires a stop to change electric locomotives. For this reason, for a long time the operation of express trains from Munich to Milan was carried out with diesel railcars. Until 30 May 1965 was also needed a second engine change in Bolzano station, as the Bolzano–Brenner section still operated under three-phase AC electrification.
In recent years the introduction of multicurrent rolling stock that can run on both the Austrian and Italian networks has made it possible, at least in principle, to avoid locomotive changes. However, the need for locomotives to carry equipment for different signalling systems and to have safety approvals for different networks and lines and the need for staff to know operating rules and routes has limited multicurrent operations in practice.
- Rete FS in esercizio (FS operational network) (PDF) (in Italian), Ferrovie dello Stato, retrieved 4 February 2010
- Facchinelli, L. (1995), La ferrovia Verona–Brennero. Storia della linea e delle stazioni nel territorio (the Verona–Brennero railway, history of the lines and stations in the area) (in Italian), Bolzano: Athesia
- Kalla-Bishop, P. M. (1971), Italian Railways, Newton Abbott, Devon, England: David & Charles, ISBN 0-7153-5168-0
- Mori, Edoardo, La ferrovia da Verona a Monaco di Baviera (The railway from Verona to Munich) (in Italian), Calosci Editore
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