#APEYearofRail – celebrating rail travel in history

Inspired by the European Year of Rail campaign, Archives Portal Europe celebrates the history of rail transports across the European continent, showcasing gems from its network.

Our first travelling country is Georgia

Our second travelling country is the United Kingdom

Our third travelling country is Finland

Our fourth travelling country is Romania

Our fifth travelling country is Spain

Our sixth and final travelling country is Luxembourg

And we start again in 2022! with Hungary


We start with the National Archives of Georgia, which carried the first passenger from Poti to Tbilisi central station in 1872.

Due to the challenging mountainous geography of Georgia, railway engineers had to face many difficulties in building a railway system. Some of the earliest experiments with electric locomotives were conducted in the Georgian mountains; from 1956, due to increased demand on trunk electric locomotives, Tbilisi Locomotive Repair Plant started construction of electric locomotives.

This is the Tbilisi Electric Locomotive Factory “Elemavalmshenebeli” and its assembly manufactory, from 1958

National Archives of Georgia

and this is the finished & functioning electric train “Strela” arriving at the Gori station, in 1960. Gori is one of the turists’ landmarks of Georgia, mostly for its 13th century fortress, but also because it was the birthplace of Joseph Stalin: the city hosts the Joseph Stalin museum, and a very controversial statue of the Soviet leader is still in place in the City Hall square, surviving Khrushchev’s de-Stalinisation programme, but also a government decision to remove in 2010, which was reverse two years later.

Electric train “Strela” (arrow) at the Gori railway station, 1960. Preserved at the National Archives of Georgia

Before electricity, the epitome of the locomotive: the steamer! This is the previous instance of the Strela electric train at the Tbilisi Railway Depot Steamer, in 1940

The Tbilisi Railway Depot Steamer, 1940. Preserved at the National Archives of Georgia

This is a photograph we can all strongly relate to: during cholera epidemics, disinfection of passengers getting off trains at stations was common throughout Europe. This is the disinfection of passengers on the platform of the Mtskheta railway station, implemented by officers of the gendarmerie division, some times between 1880 and 1900. Luckily less invasive methods were developed over the years!

Disinfection of passengers on the platform of the Mtskheta railway station implemented and controlled by officers of the gendarmerie division. 1880-1900. Preserved at the National Archives of Georgia

Railways are the perhaps best, and surely more romantic, means of transportation to connect long distances. In the late 19th century, Russian Empire photographer Dmitri Yermakov captured the Transcaucasus Railway – here the Royal wagons at Tbilisi railway station (1880-1890)

Dmitri Yermakov, Royal wagons of the Transcaucasus train line, 1880-1890). Preserved at the National Archives of Georgia

Trains are also one of the safest ways to travel – though crashes occur from time to time! Here are our Georgian pics of two accidents: a Train crash near Grakali station, on the Transcaucasus Railway, occurred on the 13 October 1900; and cisterns falling off the railroad tracks near Belagor (today’s Kharagauli), on the 11th of March, 1890. Belagor was founded as a railway station in the 1870s, as part of the construction of the Poti-Tbilisi railway .

Train crash near Grakali station. October 13, 1900. Photo by Dimitri Ermakov
Preserved at the National Archives of Georgia
Cisterns falling off the railroad tracks near Belagor, March 11, 1890. Photo by Aleksander Engel
Preserved at the National Archives of Georgia

The construction of the Jajuri (first pic) and Surami tunnels (pic 2 and 3), dated respectively 1870 and 1880. For the Surami tunnel, an international team of Italian miners worked to the construction. Surami is a small town near Belagor (today’s Kharagauli, in an area that developed around the construction of the railway.

Kars Railway. The construction of the entrance to the Jajuri tunnel. 1870-1890
Preserved at the National Archives of Georgia
A group of Italian miners working on the construction of the Surami tunnel, 1880-1890. Photo by Alexander Engel
Preserved at the National Archives of Georgia
The construction of Surami tunnel near Belagor.  At the station in the centre is the Minister of Transport communication Konstantin Posyet (statesman and admiral of French origin) with accompanying persons, railway stuff and local residents. October 13, 1888. Photo by Dimitri Ermakov. Preserved at the National Archives of Georgia

After tunnels, bridges: the testing of a new bridge with three steamers on the river Terelostskali, and the Iron Bridge; both on the Transcaucasus railway (pics from 1870-80)

Georgia was one of the countries that declared independence in the wake of the events of World War I and the Russian Revolution; on the 26th May 1918, the independent Democratic Republic of Georgia was established. In the 1918-1920 period, the newsly established country was occupied in military fronts against an Ottoman occupation (part of its territories were formally returned to the Ottoman empire from Russia through the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk which ended Russian involvement in World War I); Russia; and against Armenia, which had also declared independence from Russia only two days after Georgia. During these convulsive times, it was the People’s Guard of Georgia (საქართველოს სახალხო გვარდია), a volunteer military force of former soldiers and civilians, to be the protagonist of war actions.

Here there is a sanitary train (the convoys that provided medical care to the armies, with doctors on board and transport services between hospitals and camp infirmaries) of the People’s Guard

The sanitary train of the People’s Guard (1918-1920) Photo by V. Grinevich
Preserved at the National Archives of Georgia

Building the Tbilisi railways environment of the 1960s: the assembling line of the locomotive factory and the construction of the train station

Tbilisi Locomotive Factory. Assembling works of electric locomotive in a manufactory, 1961.
Preserved at the National Archives of Georgia
The building of Tbilisi railway station, 1965. Preserved at the National Archives of Georgia

It is not all about the physical infrastructures, the machineries, and the building sites: here are the plan for the Batumi Railway Station by Panov (1889-1909), and the technical drawing for a wagon for horse-drawn railways in Tbilisi (1898). All preserved at the National Archives of Georgia

And the last stop of our Georgian trip: the General plan on of the section of Poti-Tbilisi Railway, 1864-1870 – Preserved at the National Archives of Georgia


After Georgia, we travel to the United Kingdom, the oldest railway system in the world !

Our first stop is Portsmouth, the birthplace of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859), one of the most important engineers in UK history. Brunel was educated at the College de Henri Quatre in Paris, and he is famous for designing the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol and the Great Western steamship, among many other achievements. In 1833, Brunel was appointed Engineer for the Great Western Railway Company, where he carried into effect his plans for a broad gauge railway system. This caused a ‘gauge war’ between broad and narrow gauges; the UK Parliament eventually ruled in favour of the narrow gauges, but in spite of this, Brunel’s work brought him great renown, and he was asked to design railways in Italy as well as Australia and India. He was also a pioneer of atmospheric propulsion; and Brunel University London is named after him.

The University of Bristol holds the Brunel collection with his personal and professional papers: the catalogues are available on Archives Portal Europe, aggregated from Archives Hub:


20th May 1892 The end of Brunel’s Broad Gauge – available at The Quirky Past

Our second British stop is at the Swansea University Archives, where the Mumbles Railway Records (1804-1959) are kept. The Mumbles Railway in Wales was the first regular rail passenger service in the world, opening its services in 1807. In 1804 the Oystermouth Railway and Tramroad Company was incorporated and work began on building the line from Swansea and Mumbles. In 1806 goods traffic began to pass over the line, in wagons pulled by horses, carrying mostly limestone. However, as Mumbles was losing its industrial character while developing as a tourist resort, freight lessened and in 1807 the line became unique as providing the first regular rail passenger service in the world. Between 1877 and 1929 steam passenger services ran on the line replacing the earlier horse-drawn wagons, and in 1929 the line was electrified. The line eventually closed in 1960.   The records are available on APEF through Archives Hub: https://www.archivesportaleurope.net/ead-display/-/ead/pl/aicode/GB-217/type/fa/id/gb217-lac_SLASH_85

The Mumbles Railways in 1807. Available at Wikipedia
The Mumbles Railways after its closure in 1960. Available at Wikipedia

Our third UK stop is in York, for the National Railway Museum Archive, which holds the records of the locomotive manufacturers Robert Stephenson & Company, operating between 1823 and the early 1960s in Newcastle Upon Tyne and Durham. Engineer and inventor George Stephenson, his son Robert, and partners Edward Pease and Michael Longridge, established the first locomotive works in the world, the Forth Banks Works, in 1823. Much of the company’s machinery being designed and built by George Stephenson. Between 1814 and 1825, George and Robert Stephenson were the only builders of locomotives in the country, the first – Locomotion No 1 – was for the Stockton and Darlington Railway.   Between 1824 and 1827, the Forth Street works were not limited to the manufacture of locomotives and there is evidence of wagons, wheels, and engines of all kinds being ordered. Locomotives were also exported to France and America following a visit to the works by engineers from both countries in 1828 and early 1829. By 1855 over 1000 locomotives had been built, the firm’s order books graphically reflecting both national and worldwide interest in their acquisition. George Robert, Robert Stephenson’s cousin, who had taken on responsibility for the firm’s orders on the latter’s death in October 1859, energetically pursued overseas’ companies through frequent absences abroad, adding the Australian continent, the Far East, Africa and South America to those countries already supplied. You can find the collection here, thanks to Archives Hub: https://www.archivesportaleurope.net/ead-display/-/ead/pl/aicode/GB-756/type/fa/id/gb756-1970-473

Locomotion N.1 in 1925, in a re-enactment of the first journey to mark the 100th year anniversary (1825). Getty Images

The fourth British stop is in London, for the Channel Tunnel Association archive at the Brunel University London Special Collections, to see nothing less than the birth of the Eurostar idea! In 1802 Albert Mathieu, a French engineer, proposed a tunnel to link France with England, through the chalk under the Channel and using an artificial island on the Varne Bank. The scheme was impractical for Mathieu had little knowledge of the geology of the seabed nor did he suggest any method of construction. Napoleon Bonaparte expressed some interest and during the fragile Peace of Amiens the plan was a symbol of friendship between the two countries. Eventually, in 1868, the Anglo-French Channel Tunnel Committee founded. Between 1878-9 tunnelling commenced on both sides of the Channel, at Sangatte on the French side, and at Shakespeare Cliff near Dover, where two shafts were sunk and a 2,000 yard tunnel bored out under the sea. Work was halted in 1882 mainly for reasons of defence. Many years later, in 1953, Harold Macmillan (as Minister of Defence) said that there were no longer any strategic objections to the tunnel, thus ending the military veto that had loomed over the tunnel since the 1880’s.   In 1964 Ernest Marples, Minister of Transport, announced that the British and French Governments had agreed that the construction of a rail Channel Tunnel was technically possible and would represent a sound investment. The two Governments decided to proceed with the project subject to further legal and financial discussions. In 1984 the British and French Governments announced their intention to seek private promoters for the construction and operation of a fixed link without public funding: the Eurotunnel bid was selected. In July 1987 Margaret Thatcher and François Mitterrand ratified the Fixed Link Treaty. The Channel Tunnel was opened in 1994 and Eurostar passenger operations began in November that year. Here is the link to the collections description: https://www.archivesportaleurope.net/ead-display/-/ead/pl/aicode/GB-1975/type/fa/id/gb1975-ctun

Chalk, Channel Tunnel Archive   Image copyright: Brunel University London
A Guardian article from the inauguration, 1992. Avalable at https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/from-the-archive-blog/2014/may/06/channel-tunnel-20-anniversary-eurostar



After England, we cross the channel with the Eurostar and go up all the way to Finland, thanks to the Finnish National Archives, Kansallisarkisto

This is the plan for a railway track between two Finnish towns, Vyborg (now part of Russia), and Joensuu (in Eastern Finland):

 Projekt till jernväg emellan städerna Wiborg och Joensuu 1876-1876

Our second FInnish stop only exists on paper!! Here is a map of planned railway tracks in Finland in 1894, of which only a few were realised:

Suomen suuriruhtinaanmaan kartta valmiilla ja ehdotetuilla rautatiesuunnilla

For our third stop, we follow the original design of the Tampere-Pori railways, which opened in 1895 and which follows the river Kokemäenjoki.

Valtion rautatiealue; Kartta ja asiakirjat Porin-Tampereen rautatiealueesta (1891)

Our last stop in Finland takes us to Nurmi, on the railway line between Finland and St Petersburg – this is the 1900 project of the station, courtesy of Kansallisarkisto:


The development of the railway system in the Romanian Principalities, during the XIXth Century, is strongly connected to the Royal Family. Many important moments in the lives of the Royal Family, and in the Romanian State, happened in connection to the railways: the train was like a red wire that linked the Romanian kings and queens to their people.

Our first stop is in Bazias, where we take the train to Oravita. The beginning of the rail tracks in the Romanian land dates back to 1847-1854, when a 62-km track between Oravița and Baziaș, in Banat, ruled by Austria at the time, was built. The railway was initially built for the transport of kohl, but since 1856 the train was also used for the transport of people, in spite of the terror caused amongst many people by this “whistling iron monster.”

Mountain forest train. ANR, collection Documente fotografice, BU-F-01073-5-00166

The second Romanian trip is the Bucharest-Giurgiu track, the first rail track inaugurated by prince Carol, only three years after ascending the throne of the Romanian Old Kingdom, in 1869 – this came after almost 30 years of proposals and projects of rail tracks been seriously taken into discussion, the first one being submitted in 1842.

Thanks to King Carol I, a period of ten years of successful railway tracks projects followed. For our third Romanian trip, here is the extended 1872 Romanian rail network, and the commemorating document of the new rail track between Mărășești and Buzău (1879)

Rail tracks network in Romania (1872). ANR, collection Hărți, B I 35


The lasting bond between the Royal Family and the Romanian Railways (as an institution) started from the very beginning. Here is a congratulatory card of the Romanian Railways to King Carol Ist for his coronation (1881).

After the Treaty of Berlin (1878), King Carol Ist had to plan a new infrastructure to integrate the new received Dobruja, including the Danube Delta. In this regard, in 1887 the engineer Anghel Saligny was commissioned to design and build a bridge over the Danube: King Carol Ist Bridge, the longest bridge in Europe and the second longest in the world at the time. It was an innovative project by all accounts: besides the length, soft steel was used for the first time. The entire bridge was inaugurated on the 26th September 1895,  and as a test on the opening ceremony, a convoy of 15 whistling locomotives sped at 60 km/h, followed by a train reserved for ‘guests’, at 80 km/h.

Bridge King Carol Ist

Certificate of foundation of the bridge over the Danube River. Symbolically, a sample of this document was walled in the right footbridge, and a copy on the left one.

Until 1928, the Romanian Royal Family had no customized train to travel: during their journeys, if they were long-distance, they would travel in specials wagons attached to a normal train. Almost any important event had a train in the background. During WWI, in December 1916, the South of Romania (Bucharest  included) was occupied by Central Powers forces; the Royal Family, officials, and a large part of the population, moved to the North, in Moldavia, all travelling on crowded trains. The return, in December 1918, was done by train, too. In the year after the Great Unification of 1918, the Royal Family had a grand tour in the regained provinces, also by train. To learn more about Royal trains in Romania, you can access this beautiful book by the Club Feroviar at this link:  https://fliphtml5.com/ylfj/warx/basic

Crowded trains during the WWI.

1919 – Officials waiting for the arrival of King Ferdinand and Queen Maria in front of the train station of Alba Iulia, the city where the union of Transylvania with the Kingdom of Romania was proclaimed on 1 December 1918

ANR, collection Documente fotografice, BU-F-01073-6-00005-17

The arrival of the Royal Couple, by train, in Careii Mari (1919).

The departure of the Royal family from Cluj during their tour in Transylvania (1919).

ANR, collection Documente fotografice, BU-FD-01073-1-03356-06

Romania had a customized Royal Train since 1928 . It was manufactured in Italy, at the Ernesto Breda Costruzioni Meccaniche Milano. Unfortunately King Ferdinand, who ordered the train, died in 1927 and could never use it. However his heir King Michael, Queen Mother Elena, as well as his grandson King Carol IInd   and Queen Maria, used it many times, for official as well as personal visits, for trips from Bucharest to Peles Castle, and for the final journey to the Royal Cathedral, Curtea de Argeș Monastery, where the Romanian Royal House Kings and Queens are buried . 

The train had five wagons: the Dining Room Car, the King’s Car, the Queen’s Car, the Guests’ Car and the Car of His Majesty’s House. All of the activities onboard were strictly regulated, as it would be at the Court: the path of the journeys, the menus in the Dining Room Car, the conduct and look of the service staff. 

The Royal Train at the departure for the journey of King Carol IInd and Prince Mihai in Poland (1937).

ANR, collection Documente fotografice, BU-F-01073-1-05407

Selected program of the King Carol IInd to Warsaw by the Royal Train (1937, June 25th-July 3rd).

ANR, fond Casa Regală, Oficiale, ds. 145/1937, f. 2.

Instructions for the outfit of the staff called for the journey to Warsaw by the Royal Train (1937, June 25th-July 3rd). The entire personnel must have clean and ironed uniforms, white collars, black tie, perfect condition shoes. They have to be shaved and with tidy hair.

ANR, fond Casa Regală, Oficiale, ds. 145/1937, f. 10

The staff of the Royal Train called for a journey in the fall of 1938 (Maître d’Hotel, cameristes, valets, silversmith, chef, cook, dishwasher, driver, cellar man, telephone technician, detective etc.)

ANR, fond Casa Regală, Oficiale, ds. 312/1938, f. 237.

Inventory of the kind used for table products in the Dinning Room Car. Amongst other things, the Royals and their guests had at their disposal, in 1937: 2 table dishes sets, 12 salt cellars, 24 dessert knives, 2 fruit bowls; 33 champagne cups, 29 water glasses, 58 wine glasses, 28 glasses for plum brandy (a traditional romanian brandy). The sets were by KRISTOFLE, strictly silver handmade products.

ANR, fond Casa Regală, Oficiale, ds. 191/1937, ff. 6-7.

Menu of the royal trip in train (1938, 17th  June, Friday, 5 pm): lemon tea, eggs, butter, ham sandwiches, snacks with tomatos and cucumber, pastry.

ANR, fond Casa Regală, Oficiale, ds. 312/1938, f. 69.

Lunch and dinner menus in the Royal Train.

Duty mandate for the departure of the Royal Train to Curtea de Argeș for the 9 days memorial service of Queen Maria (1938, 30th July). The program, the itinerary and the staff are clearly stated. 

ANR, fond Casa Regală, Oficiale, ds. 315 f. 77, 81

The royal trains were accompanied by the Royal Train Stations, called like that because they were the points of departure, arrival, or waypoints for the Royal Train.

Curtea de Argeș Train Station. ANR, OT-F-00969-7-196.

The Royal Train Station in Curtea de Argeș was built in less than a year, at the request of the first King of Romania, Carol I. It was designed by French architect Andre Lacomte, who restaurated Curtea de Argeș Monastery, too. It was inaugurated on the 27 November 1898, at the same time as the railtrack Curtea de Argeș – Pitești – Bucharest. It got its name of Royal train station because all Romanian kings buried in Curtea de Argeș were brought here by train, for their final rest.

Sinaia Royal Train Station. ANR, collection Documente fotografice, BU-F-01073-5-05582-08.

The first station in Sinaia was built in 1913, by the Demeter Cartner Company, and it was reserved exclusively for the Royal Family and its guests at Peleș Castle, generally foreign leaders. The second Ceremonial Railway Station is a short distance away from the first one, at the request of the King Carol II nd and built following the plans of architect Duiliu Marcu, in 1939. Even today a steam engine can be find exhibited in front of  the Sinaia station.

We reached the end of our Romanian trip, so we go back to the basics, where trains are designed and built. A well known factory specialized in the designing and production of different types of railway engines was inaugurated in Bucharest, by engineer and entrepreneur Nicolae Malaxa, in 1921. The factory manufactured steam locomotives, diesel locomotives, car-engines, passenger coaches, diesel engines, brake equipment, and special alloy steels. It also repaired rolling stock. By the end of the 1930s, the Malaxa factories were one of the biggest industrial group in Southeastern Europe, and the main provider of equipment for the Romanian Railways.

ANR, collection Documente fotografice, BU-F-01073-6-00254-009/10/11/12/13/14/16/19/20/22


Our trip to Spain goes back to the tragic event of the Civil War (1936-39), through the eyes of German photographer Erich Andres, those photography collection is preserved at the Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica. Andres covered the Spanish Civil War on the Fascist side, as an envoy of the Nazi Minister of Propaganda. His photographs showing the harshness of civilians during the war, however, did not meet the favour of the regime.

Priest in the Guillarey station, 1936
Guillarey Station
Militia in the Vigo train station

Always from the Erich Andres archives, here is a young Carlist travelling towards the Madrid front – Carlists were traditionalist and pro-monarchy political movement in Spain that had exhisted since the early 19th century. During the Spanish war they were active on the side of General Francisco Franco.

Joven carlista viaja al frente de Madrid

Also, people trying to embark at the Orense station, going towards Vigo

Estación de Orense

People looking at passing trains in Galicia

Varias personas ven pasar un tren
Bajada y subida de viajeros en una estación de provincia española Date: 1936-08 Ribadavia (Orense)
Entrada a una estación de provincia en España [Galicia] Date: 1936-08
A Carlist militian at the Vigo Orense station
On the Vigo – Monforte train

We continue our Spanish trip for #APEYearofRail with a further jump in time, back to the mid-19th Century, thanks to the documental collection of Federico de Botella y de Hornos, a prominent Spanish mining engineer and cartographer, who – quite literally! – designed the geopgraphy of Spain between the 1850s and 1870s. The Archivo Histórico Nacional holds his photographs and documents, here is a selection:

A train station
Railway Project in the Bilbao are, 1877

Railway company from Zafra to Huelva: the bridge over the Odiel and the locomotive.

From Zafra to Huelva: the services in 1899

The train table & Services, 1899

Notes on the work of the railways used in the Almadén mine.

Notes on the work of the train

From the Archivo Histórico de la Nobleza, the collections from the Duques de Baena, the Condes de Michelena, and the Marqueses de Sobroso, on special permissions and expropriations for the constuctions of the Spanish railway systems – click on the link to access the very extensive documentation!

Also, the notebook from the train trip around Spain by María de las Nieves, infanta of Portugal, from the Archivo de la familia Borbón-Parma

And last but not least, the correspondence between the Spanish and Iranian government for a railways project, in 1913, from the Archivo Histórico Nacional, available here: www.archivesportaleurope.net/ead-display/-/ead/pl/aicode/ES-28079-AHN9/type/fa/id/ES-28079-AHN-UD-12656803/unitid/ES-28079-AHN-UD-12656803+-+ES-28079-AHN-UD-12658455/


Our final #APEYearofRail takes to to the origin of the railroad in Luxembourg, thanks to the Archives Nationales de Luxembourg which provided the following text.

Since the very first railway constructions on the European continent in the 1830s, there have been various projects to integrate the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg into an international network, such as that imagined by the British officer Thomas F. Waghorn, who aspired to create a new overland route to India via Dover and Trieste, or that of the Frankfurt banker Adolf von Reinach, who acted on behalf of a consortium of merchants whose declared aim was to connect Rotterdam to the markets of Southern Germany and Switzerland via Maastricht and Strasbourg. Each of these plans foreshadowed the optimal solution advocated by the Luxembourg authorities, namely to have the capital of their country become the point of intersection of two major East-West and North-South routes, linking the Channel and North Sea ports respectively to the Rhine Valley and the Adriatic.

However, turning the dream into reality proved to be difficult. Sometimes there was even a risk of failure. In 1853, for example, a contract between the Belgian Grande Compagnie du Luxembourg, which held the Brussels-Arlon concession, and the French Compagnie de l’Est, which operated the Paris-Strasbourg line with a branch line to Metz and Thionville, envisaged not only connecting the latter station to Saarbrücken in Rhineland Prussia, but also joining the two networks at Longwy, instead of passing through the Grand Duchy. Fortunately, a Belgian-Luxembourg state treaty decided otherwise. It decreed the extension of the railway from Arlon to the Luxembourg border. Shortly before that, the competent ministries in Berlin had advised the Eisenbahndirektion Saarbrücken (regional railway directorate) to favour a route through the Grand Duchy, as it was certainly better suited, firstly, to the logistical, if not strategic, concerns of the Prussian garrison in the federal fortress of Luxembourg and, secondly, to the economic interests of the Kreis of Trier, which also feared being isolated if communication with the commercial centres of Flanders was diverted towards Lorraine. From then on, the connection of the French East with the Belgian and German networks in Luxembourg seemed assured.

A general contractor had to be selected. The government thought it had found him in the banker Adolphe Favier from Nancy. However, this was to be a disappointment. Indeed, after having obtained the concession in November 1855 for the lines from Kleinbettingen (Arlon) to Wasserbillig (Trier) and from the French border (Thionville) to Diekirch and Troisvierges (Gouvy), with a branch line from Bettembourg to Esch and Rumelange/Ottange granted a little later, i.e. some 170 kilometres in all, the promoter dragged his feet. The preliminary studies for the route were delayed; the foundation of a Société anonyme royale grand-ducale des chemins de fer Guillaume-Luxembourg (the Guillaume-Luxembourg Royal Grand-Ducal Railway Company), to which Favier retroceded his rights in return for a substantial provision, was postponed until March 1857. By that time, the company’s credit was already seriously shaken by scandals and the bankruptcy of its main fund providers. As a result, the issue of shares on the Paris stock exchange was not as successful as had been expected. The initial capital of 35 million francs had to be reduced to 25 million francs. Adding to this the 3 or even 4 million extra francs which had to be disbursed to get rid of Favier, it was clear that, even before a single rail had been laid, the financial resources available would hardly be enough to cover the initial costs. Hence the early conclusion (June 1857) of an operating contract with the Compagnie de l’Est, which undertook to provide the passenger and goods service with its own rolling stock. In return, it was granted a substantial share of the gross revenue.

he railway station in Luxembourg City in 1869 (ANLux, FCF-CP-03-0001). The maps of all the Luxembourg railway lines from that year are preserved at the Luxembourg National Archives. The finding aid with the digitised documents is available on Archives Portal Europe (https://www.archivesportaleurope.net/ead-display/-/ead/pl/aicode/LU-ANLUX/type/fa/id/FCF)

With this guarantee and a subsidy from the Luxembourg government (amounting to 3 million francs, which was about the total annual state budget at the time!), the Guillaume-Luxembourg company finally went ahead. The work started in the spring of 1858 under the leadership of Waring Brothers Ltd., a firm of railway builders from York, England, who had in the meantime obtained the order for the earthworks, the laying of the tracks and the construction of the engineering structures. Things now were going well, at least on the French and Belgian sections, which were inaugurated with great fanfare on Tuesday 4 October 1859. As for the so-called “Northern” section and the section to Trier, more patience was required. The postponement of their opening was mainly due to the difficulties caused by the Prussian military. For fear that a potential enemy could use the new means of transportation to take over the fortress, the local commandant not only demanded that the central station be built of wood and established in front of the ramparts of Fort Wedell on a plateau in front of the town, but also prescribed that the route to the Northern and Eastern exits of the station be laid out in such a way that it would be under fire from the batteries over a maximum length of time. The constraint necessitated the costly and time-consuming construction of two viaducts over the River Alzette and an impressive embankment along the Bisserwee.

Drawing of the central railway station built of wood in Luxembourg City, 1858 (ANLux, FCF-00522). This document is preserved in the “Fonds des Chemins de fer” (railroad fonds) at the Luxembourg National Archives. The finding aid is available on Archives Portal Europe (https://www.archivesportaleurope.net/ead-display/-/ead/pl/aicode/LU-ANLUX/type/fa/id/FCF)
Postcard showing the central railway station in Luxembourg City, 1903 (ANLux, ICO-02-1022, photo: Charles Bernhoeft).

The importance of the railway for the war was the cause of an unpleasant episode which easily might have put an end to the autonomous existence of Luxembourg! During the Franco-German conflict of 1870/71, in this case during the night of 24-25 September 1870, two convoys of the Compagnie de l’Est left Bettembourg station to transport 125 wagons full of food, medicines and gunpowder to the fortress at Thionville, which was under siege by Prussian troops. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck immediately used this as a pretext to accuse the Grand Duchy of having violated its neutrality. Although the Luxembourg government of Emmanuel Servais valiantly defended itself against such accusations – it was not at all aware of the shenanigans of the French personnel in charge of its network – Bismarck did not rest until he had won his case. Without saying a word to those concerned, he took advantage of his position of strength to slip into the Frankfurt Peace Treaty (10 May 1871) a clause by which the Compagnie de l’Est, in addition to its Alsace and Lorraine lines, also ceded to him the contract to operate the Guillaume-Luxembourg lines; then, in a second step, he forced Servais to ratify the manoeuvre. Nothing could be easier. It was enough to make the renewal of the customs union between the German Zollverein (Customs Union) and the Grand Duchy a prerequisite for the latter’s acceptance of the management of its railways by the Betriebskommission (operating commission) in Strasbourg, which would henceforth be responsible for rail traffic in the annexed Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen (Alsace Lorraine)! On 11 June 1872, the trick was played. Faced with the blackmail of the “Iron Chancellor”, his Luxembourgish interlocutor gave in by signing the new railway agreement which, de facto, gave the Germans extensive control over the economy of their small neighbour.

Convention of 11 June 1872 between the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the German Empire concerning the operation of the Guillaume-Luxembourg lines (ANLux, TC-0062). This document and other international treaties and conventions are preserved at the Luxembourg National Archives. The finding aid with the digitised documents is available on Archives Portal Europe (https://www.archivesportaleurope.net/ead-display/-/ead/pl/aicode/LU-ANLUX/type/fa/id/TC

However, Servais had a ready-made solution. In order to counterbalance Bismarck’s imperialist advance, he encouraged the construction of a second railway network, known as the “belt”. Financed mainly by Belgian capitalists who ran the SA des chemins de fer et minières Prince-Henri (Prince Henri Railway and Mining Company), its rather national character, combined with local connections with France (Mont St Martin) and Belgium (Athus/Bastogne), was supposed to restore the correct balance between the foreign influences, in the plural, which were being exerted in the country, to the delight of its inhabitants.

Map of the Luxembourg railway roads at the end of the 19th century (ANLux, TRP-03782). This document is preserved in the “Fonds Travaux Publics” (public works fonds) at the Luxembourg National Archives. The finding aid is available on Archives Portal Europe (http://www.archivesportaleurope.net/ead-display/-/ead/pl/aicode/LU-ANLUX/type/fa/id/TRP).


A blueprint drew by the engineers of the “Ganz” Works, a group of companies operating between 1845 and 1949 in Budapest. These electric locomotives were delivered by the Wiener Lokomotivfabrik Florisdorf (WLF) for the Austrian Federal Railways, rapid traction. The blueprint is probably from the 1920s.

A drawing of an early “Kandó” locomotive. National Archives of Hungary, HU MNL OL Z 1598–4.–421.

The Ganz and Partner Iron Mill and Machine Factory (shortly: Ganz Works), one of the most innovative Hungarian companies, was founded by Ábrahám Ganz, a master mold of Swiss origin in 1845, Buda. The two most important innovations of the company were chill casting of railway wheels, modern roller mills, mainly produced for export. The Department of Electrical Engineering was founded in 1878; its most famous engineers were the three inventors of the transformer: Miksa Déri, Ottó Bláthy and Károly Zipernowsky. Kálmán Kandó, the inventor of the rotary phase converter, joined the team later. His most famous work was the electrification of the Valtellina railway line, in Northern Italy, 1902 – it was Europe’s first electrified main line.

The Ganz Works supplied the famous E 401 and E 402 electric locomotives for the Paris-Orleans railway in 1926 – designed by Kálmán Kandó. At the time, this type was the strongest of its kind in the world. The maximum speed of the locomotive was 130 km per hour. The customer was the Compagnie du Chemin de fer de Páris á Orléans, which was an early French railway company. The photos were developed using a cyanotype procedure.

About the cyanotypes

Cyanotype is a photo development procedure, most commonly applied to paper, sometimes textiles (silk). It was invented by Sir John Herschel, in 1842, but it has only been used since 1875 (when a London company began selling prepared papers, for amateur photographers). Mainly blueprints (plans) were made this way, approx. until the 1950s. The National Archives of Hungary preserves thousands of cyanotypes of the products and facilities of Ganz Works (Z 429–X–388. t.); most of them were made of glass negatives. The glasses were lost.

The final draft of market allocation agreement, 1938

The Ganz Works and its British partners divided the global market for motor coach. The agreement listed the countries to which one or the other party may ship goods. It was signed in 1935 (only a Hungarian translation is available), but later, in 1938, the parties supplemented the original – you can see a draft of this supplemental in the gallery.

The side note shows that this draft became the final version, and it was signed in 28 September, 1938. According to the inscription on the dossier, the original contract, and the supplemental too, were destroyed during the war.

The Treaty between the Hungarian State Railways and the Brussels International Sleeping Car Association (1889, 1903). The Hungarian State Railways („MÁV”, or Magyar Államvasutak) is the state railway company of Hungary. The legal predecessor of „MÁV”, the Hungarian Royal State Railways, it was founded in 1868. On July 1, 1868, the government bought the bankrupt Hungarian Northern Railway. This was soon merged with the Zákány-Zagreb line. Subsequently, the private railways, which were in a difficult financial situation, were subsidized or bought out by the state. Their lines and vehicles were taken over by the Hungarian Royal State Railways. The document was written in Hungarian, German and French. For the greater convenience of passengers, „MÁV” intends to use sleeping carriages on certain night trains and dining carriages on certain night trains, especially high-speed trains. The contract was therefore concluded.

Source: HU MNL OL Z 1601–43. [1889, 1903]. Official print, copy. Restored by Ágnes Kovácsné Bánhidi, National Archives of Hungary, „SZKI”, Department of Conservation 

The Original wagon drawings for transporting The Holy Right of St. Stephen, 1939. The wagon is known as the “Holy Right”, and every year on August 20th, Hungary takes it out for a ceremony. The occasion is Saint Stephen’s Day, a day dedicated to celebrating the founder of the Hungarian State. The wagon was probably constructed for the 900th anniversary of death Saint Stephen for carrying his mummified “Holy Right” hand around the country.

HU MNL OL Z 1525–71525–41526 [1937, 1944] – 1518.
www.fortepan.hu (13985)

The photo was taken at Újdombóvár railway station in 1938. Comparing the photo and drawings we can observe the difference, for example the missing ancient Greek columns and curtains. The drawings (drafts) contain the special parameters of the reliquary. In 1944, the “Actio Catholica” (AC) Hungarian religious association gave back the wagon for the Hungarian State Railways public services without decoration articles regarding to the serious lack of wagons. On the drawings Today, the mummified “Holy Right” hand of St. Stephen resides in an ornate golden reliquary in the Basilica of St. Stephen.

‘Our pride is the Pioneer Railway’. The construction of the Pioneer Railway, or the Children’s Railway as it was initially called, began in April 1948 in the Buda Hills, on Széchenyi Hill, following the Soviet model. The aim was to create a railway run by school-age children. The first section of the narrow-gauge railway, running from Széchenyi Hill to Station Előre (Forward, today: station Virágvölgy), with a station at the Pioneer Camp at Csillebérc, was opened on 31st July 1948, after a fast-track programme building by youth brigades and young volunteers. The last section, running to the terminus at Hűvösvölgy, was opened on 20th August 1950. After the Communist Party took power in 1948, the railway line was operated only by pioneers, 5th-8th graders who joined the Communist Party’s pioneer movement, an organisation similar to the scout movement. According to the official ideology, the Pioneer Railway was an instrument for socialist education, especially the education for productive work. The number of pioneer applicants was several times greater than the labour force needed, so only those with excellent or good grades were allowed to serve on the railway. In 1949, the National Centre of the Pioneer took the initiative to publish a publication promoting the pioneer railway among parents, showing happy pioneering and lively children. The brochure, titled ‘Our pride is the Pioneer Railway’ presented the construction of the first section of the railway and the service on the railway. It also included the political propaganda of the age, with a quote from the Hungarian communist dictator Mátyás Rákosi, pictures of Rákosi and his right-hand man Ernő Gerő holding children in their arms, and the popularization of the pioneer movement and the building of socialism.

Source: HU MNL OL XIX-H-1-q-312313-1949

Miksa Stróbl’s plan for for a “Northern Interconnecting Railway” – On 20 May 1949, the Budapest-based architect Miksa Stróbl submitted his proposal for a northern railways connecting Vác to Cegléd via Gödöllő, Tápiószecső and Tápióbicske, partially relieving traffic from the capital. In his letter, he mentions that he had proposed his plan to the ministers of trade twice in the past, in 1911 and in 1931. Stróbl, an architect with wide interests, was keen to draw up plans and sketch maps. For example, in December 1918, during the collapse at the end of the First World War, he published the most detailed map of Hungary’s federalisation plan, entitled ‘The New Hungary as the Switzerland of the East’.  He listed a number of strategic and economic arguments for the plan of a northern railway link. In his 1949 proposal, he highlighted the economic ones: faster transport of agricultural products from the Great Plain to the West by bypassing Budapest; and the availability of labour (returning prisoners of war, ‘migrant’ farm workers, etc.) due to the high unemployment after the Second World War. Stróbl also suggested that, despite his old age, he should design one of the large station buildings. The Ministry of Transport and Postal Services, in its reply, considered the plan redundant, as the railway line between Vác and Aszód was already included in the plans.

Investigation of Elemér Horthy’s illegal railway photographing – On the 15th March 1949, the Hungarian State Railways (MÁV), the largest company in the country at the time, was merged into the Ministry of Transport and Postal Affairs. Soonm the Communist Party’s class-warfare approach became a feature of the company, with external and internal enemies, the raising of ‘communist vigilance’, and the search for subversive elements .

The following story serves as an example: in 1949, the Railway Department of the Ministry of Transport and Posts banned photography on railway premises, especially for MÁV employees. Despite the ban, on 10 July 1949, while on his way home from Pécs to Budapest during his holiday, an employee of the Nyugati Railway Station, Elemér Horthy (no relation to Miklós Horthy, Regent of Hungary between 1920 and 1944) took some photos from the window of a train near Abaliget. The engine driver noticed this, and reported it to the stationmaster in Sásd. The camera and the film inside were confiscated and examined in the photo laboratory of the Pécs directorate of MÁV. It was found that the pictures of the railway equipment were blurred beyond recognition; however, the four photographs were still destroyed, Elemér Horthy was fined 50 forints, and the driver 100 forints. Elemér Horthy received his camera back on 8 February 1950 – the remainder of the film negative was attached to the file and thus preserved !

You can read the full report of the event here:

Source: HU MNL OL XIX-H-1-q-317864-1949

The plans of the railway line across the Árpád Bridge.

The construction of the Árpád Bridge in Budapest began in 1939, but was interrupted in 1943 due to the Second World War. As it was unfinished, the bridge was not blown up by retreating German troops, unlike other bridges in the country. The bridge was originally designed to be 27.6 metres wide, with 18.8 metres of road and tramway, 3.4 metres of pavement, and 1 metre of cycling path on each side. The works for its construction resumed in 1948, but with a different plan. The ‘fight for bridges‘, led by the communist minister of transport Ernő Gerő, was aimed at building and handing over Budapest’s bridges in the shortest possible time, and with the least possible use of materials. The width of the Árpád Bridge was reduced to 13 metres, less than half of the original design, leaving only 11 metres for the road and tramway and 1 metre of pavement on each side. The bridge was renamed the Stalin Bridge – a name it retained until 1956.

As the Újpest Railway Bridge was blown up in 1944 and not reconstructed until 1955, the tramway line of the Árpád Bridge was also used for rail freight transport. Access tracks were built to connect the railway and the bridge. The railway freight route was as follows: Angyalföld MÁV Station (from 1938 to 1954 known as Magdolnaváros Railway Station) – the entrance to the former Vizafogó Freight Station – the sidings leading to Árpád Bridge – Flórián Square – the running track – Filatorigát Railway Station – the tracks of the suburban railway – Óbuda Railway Station. The access tracks had to be completed by the inauguration ceremony of the bridge on 7 November 1950, so the Railway Department of the Ministry of Transport and Postal Affairs applied to the National Planning Office on 14 March 1950 for an additional loan of HUF 4.3 million to complete the construction on time, enclosing a 1949 side plan of the tracks. The project plan estimated a cost of HUF 2.3 million for the second quarter and HUF 2 million for the third quarter.

You can read the report and the documents related to the Árpád Bridge here, from the National Archives of Hungary

The plans of the East-West Underground Railway Line of Budapest. Proposal to the Council of Economics in 1950. The Budapest metro is the oldest electrified underground railway system in continental Europe, those first line was completed in 1896. Due to the increasing traffic in Budapest, in 1942 the city council drew up plans for a four-line underground railway network, the most important of which was the East-West Line connecting the Southern and Eastern Railway Stations (Déli Pályaudvar and Keleti Pályaudvar). This line would have followed Attila Street on the west side of the Danube, crossed the Danube under the Elisabeth Bridge, run to the Eastern Railway Station, and then along Thököly Street to Bosnyák Square. However, its realisation was prevented by the Second World War. Planning resumed after the war, in 1947, and the precise design of the trunk network and the East-West Line began in 1949 at the Ministry of Transport and Posts. The original plans were altered, particularly at both ends of the line, making it shorter. The line would have run from Southern Railway Station (Déli Pályaudvar) to the newly built Népstadion (People’s Stadium today: Ferenc Puskás Stadium) on Kerepesi street instead of Thököly street, and would have crossed the Danube at the Parliament building instead of Elisabeth bridge (Erzsébet-híd).

The plans were drawn up by the State Underground Construction Design Institute (Állami Mélyépítési Tervező Intézet), and the first version included the following underground stations: Southern Railway Station (Déli Pályaudvar), Széll Kálmán Square, Batthyány Square, Szabadság Square, Deák Ferenc Square (with connection to the old underground railway line and to the planned North-South Line), National Theatre (now Blaha Lujza Square, as the theatre building was demolished in 1963), Eastern Railway Station (Keleti Pályaudvar), and Sports Yard (by the Népstadion / People’s Stadium). The line would have connected to the Gödöllő suburban railway line, and the railway halls would have been located in Pillangó Street, east of the stadium. After the official handover on 30th June 1950, the plans were again modified: at the request of the government, the Danube crossing point, where the underground railway would have crossed the Danube, was moved southwards so that it would not pass under the Parliament building. Later, the first station on the east side of the Danube was also moved to Kossuth Square.

HU MNL OL XIX-H-1-c-131-1950
HU MNL OL XIX-H-1-c-131-1950
HU MNL OL XIX-H-1-pp-4-610-131-10-1950;

The investment plans of the underground railway in Budapest (1950-1953), the discontinued and restarted constru ction (1963-1973).The concept of the Budapest underground railway trunk network was adopted by the government on 15 September 1950. This core network was planned to consist of an East-West line, a North-South Line and a ring line connecting them. The plan, which required a large investment, was justified by the fact that the rapid development of Greater Budapest and the increase in passenger numbers made it necessary to have an underground rail network to connect the main hubs. In a proposal submitted to the Council of Ministers, the minister of transport Lajos Bebrits identified the construction of the East-West Line as the first phase of the plan, a HUF 2 billion investment, of which more than HUF 1.8 billion was covered by the first five-year plan (1950-1954), the rest being saved until completion in 1955. The investment plan, despite being extremely expensive and imposing an unrealistically short deadline, was approved, and construction started on the 17th September 1950. The planned timetable called for the section between Deák Square and the Népstadion (“People’s Stadium”, today Ferenc Puskás Stadium) to be completed by the end of the five-year plan in 1954, relieving congestion on Budapest’s busiest main road, Rákóczi Street, as well as Nagykörút (Grand Boulevard) and Kiskörút (Small Boulevard). Due to the short deadline, construction started at 14 sites simultaneously. A major problem for the project was the lack of tunnelling specialists, as no tunnels had been built in Hungary for decades. To solve this problem, specialists were brought in from the Soviet Union. In 1952, based on the numbers of the previous year, it was calculated that in 1955 the first section would take over 3.42% of the traffic of the capital, while the entire line in 1956 would take over 9.8%, which would grow to 10.6% by 1960. Calculations were also made for the planned North-South Line. However, the oversize investment was beyond Hungary’s economic means. First, in December 1953, the next-year subsidy was reduced; then, in February 1954, along with several other major investments, construction was halted altogether. Less than 40% of the construction work was completed at that time, and for several years afterwards only conservation work was carried out. Only in 1963 the decision was made to resume construction of the East-West Metro Line. The plans were modified, with a new station at Astoria and the terminus moved from the stadium to Örs Vezér Square.  The rolling stock and escalators were brought from the Soviet Union, and the operating personnel was trained there. By 1969, the design plans for the stations, platforms, and above-ground halls were completed. The section between Deák Square and Örs Vezér Square was opened on 4th April 1970, while the section between Deák Square and Southern Railway Station (Keleti Pályaudvar) was opened on 22nd December 1972. At the same time, plans were drawn up for the further development of the underground railway network and the capital’s public transport network –  construction of the North-South Metro Line began in 1970.

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