Railroad Boom

In 1830, the UK had 157 km of railroad, France 31 km, the other European countries none. In 1840, the UK had 2,390 km, Germany 469, France 410, Belgium 334, Austria-Hungary 144, Russia 27, Italy 20. In 1850, the UK had 9,797 km, Germany 5,656, France 2,915, Austria-Hungary 1,250, Belgium 854, Russia c. 700. In 1860, the UK had 14,603 km, Germany 11,089, France 9,167, Austria-Hungary 2,927, Italy 2,404, Ireland 2,195, Belgium 1,729, Russia 1,626, Spain 1,885 (figures after Mitchell 1992 p.655f.)

The first railroads were constructed by private companies; as investments were considerable, they required significant bank loans. Especially in Germany, where because of the political landscape numerous borders were to be crossed, railroad construction made economic cooperation of the German states necessary, thus providing an incentive for the foundation of the Zollverein.
With a number of individual companies constructing various stretches of railroad, a caleidoscope of conflicting standards was used, most notably different gauge widths - a nuisance when the individual lines connected to form a railroad network. At times, two companies constructed competing lines on the same stretch (Paris-Versailles, one on the left, one on the right bank of the Seine).
Not only the desire to standardize, state support with the funding of major railroad prohects, but especially military considerations resulted in the discussion of the nationalization of the major railroads. Bismarck demanded the nationalization of the major railroads in 1876; nationalization of railroads in Germany was begun in 1880. Nationalization of the major railroads was decided in Switzerland in 1898.
By contrast, the French government was heavily involved in railway construction (which it partially financed), but it left route planning and operarion to private companies. Most railroad lines connected with Paris, but other French cities and regions were poorly connected; Germany had a much more harmonious railroad network, a factor which provided the Germans with an advantage during thr mobilization period of the Franco-German War of 1870-1871.

Belgium's Steel Network, from Mike's Railway History
Die Eisenbahn als Lokomotive des Industriezeitalters, by Boris Schneider (on Swiss railrroad history) in German
Die Geschichte der Eisenbahn in Deutschland, by Matthias Messoll, History of the Railroad in Germany, in German
French Railway History, from Wikipedia
DOCUMENTS Historische Dokumente - Eisenbahnen (Historical Documents - Railroads), from Verkehrswerkstatt, in German
A Series of Maps showing the extension of the German Railroad Network for every year between 1835 and 1870, from IEG Maps
REFERENCE B.R. Mitchell, International Historical Statistics : Europe 1750-1988, NY : Stockton Press 1992
Richard L. Tames, Documents of the Industrial Revolution 1750-1850, London : Hutchinson 1971

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on September 29th 2003, last revised on November 16th 2004

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