#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


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

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