Southern Railway (Austria)

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The Southern Railway (German: Südbahn) is a railroad in Austria that runs from Vienna to Graz and the border with Slovenia at Spielfeld via Semmering and Bruck an der Mur. It was originally built by the Austrian Southern Railway company and ran to Ljubljana and Trieste, the main seaport of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The two-track, electrified section that runs through the current territory of Austria is owned and operated by Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) and is one of the major lines of the country.


Already in 1829, Austrian railway pioneer Franz Xaver Riepl proposed a railway connection from Vienna to the Adriatic Sea, bypassing the Eastern Alps via Bruck an der Leitha, Magyaróvár and Szombathely in Western Hungary, Maribor and Ljubljana to Trieste. His plans were adopted by the entrepreneur Georgios Sinas, who in 1836 had engineer Matthias von Schönerer lay out a first railroad section from Vienna to Győr (Raab), Hungary with a branch-off to Bratislava.

Südbahn train near Baden, 1847

At the same time plans for a direct connection through the Alps were developed, promoted by Archduke John of Austria to open up the Styrian lands beyond Semmering Pass. In 1838 Sinas established the private Wien-Raaber Eisenbahn (WRB) company with 12.5m guilders share capital. Departing from the original plans of a connection via Hungary, the next year construction works started on a first section southwards between Baden, Lower Austria and Wiener Neustadt, opened on 16 May 1841. Schönerer had travelled to the US, where he purchased a used steam locomotive named Philadelphia, built by the Norris Locomotive Works in 1837.

Soon after, the railroad was extended to Mödling and Neunkirchen and on 5 May 1842, the railroad from Wien Südbahnhof (Southern Station) was completed up to Gloggnitz at the northern foot of the Semmering Pass. While most freight traffic ran on the parallel Wiener Neustadt Canal (also leased by Sinas), passenger figures continuously increased. Sinas had the construction of the railroad to Hungary (the present-day Eastern Railway) resumed from 1844; in 1853 the Vienna–Gloggnitz line was nationalised by the k.k. Südliche Staatsbahn.

On the Styrian side of the pass, the Austrian government itself had decided to build the railroad from Graz northwards up to Mürzzuschlag, led by engineer Carl Ritter von Ghega. On 21 October 1844 the line opened, a southern continuation to Celje was inaugurated on 2 June 1848 after the March Revolution had begun, extended to Ljubljana the next year. Still passengers had to use the stagecoach across Semmering Pass, nevertheless Ghega had surveyed the terrain of the Semmering Pass since 1841 and the construction of the bold Semmering railway project started immediately after the 1848 Revolutions.

On 17 July 1854 the direct railway connection from Vienna to Ljubljana was inaugurated. It took further three years to build the final section traversing the Karst Plateau, before the first through train from Vienna to Trieste ran on 12 July 1857. When in 1860 the connection to Milano was opened, Austria had already lost Lombardy to what was to become the re-established Kingdom of Italy in the Second Italian War of Independence. The construction of the last section was finished near Magenta on 1 June 1859, where three days later the Austrian Army was defeated at the Battle of Magenta.

Wien Südbahnhof, built in 1875

On 23 May 1858 the railroad was sold to the newly established Austrian Southern Railway stock company. The Austrian Federal Railways took over in 1923. Upon the dissolution of Austria-Hungary after World War I according to the 1919 Treaty of Saint-Germain, the station at Spielfeld, Styria became a border station to Šentilj in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Kingdom of Yugoslavia from 1929, present-day Slovenia). Border controls have been abolished with Slovenia's accession to the Schengen Area in 2007.

Train service[edit]

While the connection between Vienna and Graz, partly provided by ÖBB Railjet high-speed trains, is much-frequented, international passenger traffic to Trieste has decreased in past decades. Nevertheless the railroad is to be developed by the Semmering Base Tunnel and the Koralm Railway branch-off to Klagenfurt, Carinthia. The section from Graz to the Slovenian border, which had been downgraded to a single track railway in the 1950s, is currently again enlarged to double-track.

Within the Vienna metropolitan region, the sections between new Wien Hauptbahnhof, Wien Meidling, Mödling, Leobersdorf and Wiener Neustadt Hauptbahnhof are also part of the suburban Vienna S-Bahn railway network.

External links[edit]

  • Wien-Südbahnhof: Photogallery and documentation about the Vienna Southern Railway Station (Wien-Südbahnhof) by Martin Frey and Philipp Graf