In the 1830’s the Austro-Hungarian Empire boasted the world’s longest horse railway connecting Linz in Upper Austria to České Budějovice in Bohemia. Originally envisioned in 1807 by Professor Franz Joseph von Gerstner to transport salt and other goods over the Šumava mountains, the project was implemented by his son, Franz Anton, in 1825 with the first sections opening for use in 1827. The technical and engineering challenges of driving a railroad through highland led to overspend and in 18285 Gerstner left the contract. Matyáš Schönerer took over to complete the Austrian section, with the line now diverted from Malthausen to Linz. Built to a gauge of 3 feet 7 ½ inches and with a ruling gradient of 1 in 120 the line was fully completed on August 1, 1832.
Initially intended for goods traffic the line quickly began to take passengers in horse drawn carriages that resembled mail coaches. On the railway there were several way stations for changing horses. Passenger trains left once a day at 5 o’clock in the morning from both terminal stations. They crossed at midday at Kerschbaum, where they had an hour break for lunch in the first railway restaurant in Europe. The journey took 14 hours. When a goods train encountered a passenger train on the single track railway the passengers had to give way, alighting from the carriage and bodily lifting it from the tracks to allow the goods train to pass.
In 1854 the line extension between Linz and Gmunden was converted to steam straction. Steam locomotives began to operate along the entire line from September 1, 1872, and the last horse-drawn train ran on December 12, 1872, between Linz and Kerschbaum. Little remains of the original track but at Holkov, the first change over station from České Budějovice, the station and stable still stand, and at Pšenice you can see the watch house and remains of the track.
Research from the Defence Studies Department, King's College London
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