#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


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/

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