line_gbg68.gif (2222 bytes)

line_gbg70.gif (2222 bytes)

Südbahn train near Baden, 1847

History of the Southern Railway (Südbahn)

[Text and images extracted from various and other sources.]

The Austrian Empire (Austrian German: Kaiserthum Oesterreich, modern spelling Kaisertum Österreich) was an empire in Central Europe created out of the realms of the Habsburg Monarchy by proclamation in 1804. It  Proclaimed in response to the Napoleon's First French Empire, it overlapped with the Holy Roman Empire until the latter's dissolution on August 6, 1806 after the last Holy Roman Emperor Francis II (from 1804, Emperor Francis I of Austria) abdicated, following a military defeat by the French under Napoleon at Austerlitz. It was a multinational empire and one of Europe's great powers. Geographically it was the second largest country in Europe after the Russian Empire, and was also the third most populous after Russia and France, plus the largest and strongest country in the German Confederation.  The Ausgleich of 1867 elevated Hungary's status, making it an entirely separate entity from the Empire, joining with it in the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary.

The Imperial Royal Austrian State Railways (Kaiserlich-königliche österreichische Staatsbahnen) was a railway company that provided services on the Austrian side of Austria-Hungary. In 1810 a horse-drawn service was started for transporting iron for a distance of 22 km on the Erzberg of Styria. In 1832  another horse-drawn line was opened between Linz in Upper Austria and Budweis (now České Budějovice, Bohemia, in the Czech Republic) that ran for a distance of 128.8 km, thus becoming the first long distance transport line for goods in Europe.

The first tracked railway line to be constructed in Austria was the Northern Railway (Nordbahn or Kaiser Ferdinand Nordbahn) between Vienna (Wien) and Krakow, Poland, opened between Floridsdorf and Deutsch Wagram in 1837 to benefit the salt mines of nearby Bochnia, while the remaining section up to Vienna was completed in 1838, with the line across Breclav to Brno in 1839. It was financed by Salomon Mayer von Rothschild (1774-1855).

In 1841 the railway's reach was to Přerov and Olomouc, and in 1842 to Lipník nad Bečvou. The extension to Ostrava and  Bohumín was completed in 1847. The Northern Railway never reached Krakow or Bochnia because it later was joined to the , Auschwitz line in Prussia. By 1854 the state owned owned 994 km of railway (about 70% of 1443 km).

The Southern Railway (Südbahn) was originally built by the Austrian Southern Railway (Österreichische Südbahnn or just Südbahn). The first plans for a connection from Galicia via the Austrian capital Vienna to the Austrian Littoral and the busy Adriatic Port of Trieste, bypassing the Eastern Alps via Bruck an der Leitha and Szombathely in Hungary, in order to meet trade demands in the upcoming age of industrialization, were already set up by Franz Xaver Riepl in 1829. Riepl also gave the impulse for building the important Witkowitz iron works which was important in the construction of the Northern Railway. In 1836 he produced the first plan for a railway network across the whole of Austria. 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.

The plans were adopted by the Greek entrepreneur Georgios Sinas (Baron Georg Simon von Sina), who in 1838 established the private Wien-Raaber-Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft stock company with 12.5 m. guilders share capital. Departing from the original plans of a connection via Hungary, construction began in 1939 with the laying of the first railroad section of railway from Vienna via Wiener Neustadt to Győr (Raab) in Hungary with a branch-off to Bratislava. 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.

For the railway locomotives, Sinas' engineer Matthias Schönerer travelled to th U.S.A. in 1837 where he purchased a used steam locomotive named Philadelphia that was built by the Norris Locomotive Works. He had it shipped to Trieste and brought to Vienna by oxcart. Thus, the first section southwards between Baden, Lower Austria and Wiener Neustadt, opened on May 16, 1841. On August 17, 1841 Emperor Ferdinand I opened the new Semmering Pass Road. Soon after, the railroad was extended to Mödling and Neunkirchen and on May 5, 1842, the railroad from Wien Südbahnhof (Southern Station) was completed up to Gloggnitz at the northern foot of the Semmering Pass.

Übersicht der zwischen Wr. Neustadt und Triest ausgemittelten Eisenbahnlinie, 1841.
The Southern Railway (Südbahn) today.

The Semmering Railway (Semmeringbahn) is one of the greatest feats of civil engineering during the pioneering phase of railway building, and has been named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built between 1848 and 1854, the Semmering Railway starts at Gloggniziz and leads over the Semmemring to Mürzzuschlag and opened up the mountain scenery to the people of Vienna. Thousands of tourists visited Gloggnitz and went hiking around Vienna's so-called "Home Mountains“, Mount Rax and Mount Schneeberg. In 1854 the railway passage over Semmering was established and was the first mountain railway in Europe to be built with a standard gauge track on over 41 km of high mountains. Commonly referred to as the world's first true mountain railway due to the very difficult terrain and considerable differences in altitude that was mastered during its construction, it is still fully functional as a part of the Southern Railway, with the high standard of the tunnels, viaducts and other works ensuring 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.

On the Styrian side of the pass, influential circles around Archduke John of Austria had reflected about a direct railway connection crossing the Alps at the Semmering Pass. The Austrian government itself had decided to build the railroad from Graz northwards up to Mürzzuschlag, led by the Venetian-born engineer Carlo Ghega. Knighted in 1851 for his services to the country, he is better known as Carl von Ghega. On October 21, 1844 the line opened, a southern continuation to Celje was inaugurated on June 2, 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 and continued to 1854.

1857 Austrian silver two-thaler coin marking the completion of the Southern Railway

On the Lower Austrian side, the railway from Vienna via Wiener Neustadt to Gloggnitz at the foot of the mountains was completed by the private company Wien-Gloggnitzer Eisenbahn Gesellschafttk.k., then Southern State Railways took over the construction of the section from Mürzzuschlag via Graz and Maribor and Ljubljana to Trieste, but which was then completed by the Imperial government in 1857. This included the Borovnica viaduct, one of the most imposing railway bridges of the era, built in 1856 upon the plans by Ghega.

The two lines were thus connected by the Semmering Railway, and on July 17, 1854 the direct railway connection from Vienna to Ljubljana was inaugurated. It took an additional three years to build the final section traversing the Karst Plateau before the first through train from Vienna to Trieste officially ran on July 12, 1857. When the connection to Milano was opened in 1860, 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 June 1, 1859, where three days later the Austrian Army was defeated at the Battle of Magenta.

On 23 May 1858 all the railroad lines were sold to the newly established Austrian Southern Railway (Österreichische Südbahn or just Südbahn), a private stock company that was established in 1859 to become the main railway company in the Austrian Empire. The railway company then constructed another line from Maribor via Klagenfurt, Villach and Lienz to Franzensfeste, lifted Austria-Hungary's international sea trade, thereby establishing Trieste as the main sea port of all Southern and Eastern Central Europe (Lloyd Triestino). Trieste thus became the Empire's fourth largest city after Vienna, Budapest and Prague and the railway had substantial influence in developing tourism along the surrounding Adriatic coasts which made Trieste the center of the so-called Austrian Riviera.

Postumia Sudbahn
[tratto da:]

In 1907, the railway company was nationalized, but it had concurrently also owned numerous coal mines and other companies which continued to function ever after the nationalization of the railroads. After World War I, upon the dissolution of Austria-Hungary and in accordance with 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, now part of Slovenia). Trieste was ceded to Italy in 1921 and in 1923 the remaining Austrian part of the company was nationalized.

1875 -Wien Südbahnhof in Vienna that was bombed but not destroyed in WWII as is sometimes claimed. Instead, it underwent renovations and alterations that were dismantled in 2009. [This information needs to be confirmed!]

During World War II the Southern Railway was damaged and rebuilt only in 1956, while Ostbahnhof was integrated into it. The Graz Main Station also had to be rebuilt after being totally destroyed by bombs, then reopened in 1955.

During the Cold War, trade between Vienna and Trieste was mainly run through Tarvisio in Italy where the tracks had been equipped with electric power by 1963; the same for the branch from Vienna into Graz and Yugoslavia by 1966. Border controls were abolished with Slovenia's accession to the Schengen Area in 2007.

Southern Railways Vienna-Triest commemorative coin.  Source:

Today, the Southern Railway is one of the major lines of Austria that runs through the current territory of Austria from Vienna) to Graz and the border with Slovenia at Spielfeld by way of Semmering and Bruck an der Mur. It is a two-track, electrified section that is owned and operated by Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB)  This Austria route is created from Wiener Neustandt to Bruck an der Mur, which has a total length of 110 km.

Nowadays most of the line is double track, though the line between Werndorf (South of Graz) and Maribor is still single track after having the second track removed in 1945. This, however, is to change in the near future.

In Austria, the term Southern Railway (Südbahnn) is still used to refer to the railway lines which were formerly operated by it: Vienna via Bruck an der Mur to Graz and via Slovenia to Trieste. The term "Austrian Southern Railway" is sometimes also applied today to the railway line from Bruck an der Mur via sKlagenfurt and Villach to Italy (Tarvisio), but this is historically incorrect.


The Southern Railway was recently selected as the main motif of a very high value collectors' coin: the Austrian Southern Railways Vienna-Triest commemorative coin, minted on September 12, 2007. The obverse shows the locomotive “Steinbrück” with one of the typical viaducts of the Semmering Railway in the background. The engine “Steinbrück” can be seen today in the Technical Museum in Vienna. It is the oldest existing locomotive built in Austria; it was constructed in 1848 for the Southern Railway.

Main Menu

Created:  Monday, March 28, 2016;  Last updated: Saturday, June 04, 2016
Copyright © 1998, USA