Semmering Railway

Revolutionary railway line and aesthetic work of art.

When the Alps got on board: the Semmering Railway is seen as a prime example of the harmonious interplay of wild Alpine scenery and elegant architecture. Even UNESCO’s committees couldn’t escape the magic of the railway and its surroundings: In 1998, they granted the railway line World Heritage status.

“You should never drive across the Semmering by car. The mountainous landscape only comes into view from the railway line, its structure runs along the tracks.” Wise words from an expert! The Austrian writer Heimito von Doderer (1896–1966) spent the summer months of his life in his family villa in the Semmering region, and was therefore familiar with the intertwining railway line and landscape. Even today, train passengers experience the Semmering as though it were a scene from a film: New scenery emerges from behind every curve, areas of craggy rock, distinctive galleries, boldly stretched viaducts, all of which is embedded in the enchanting landscape of one of the last foothills of the Eastern Alps.

Technical masterpiece

The railway line, which starts at Gloggnitz and leads over the Semmering Pass to Mürzzuschlag, was the first standard-gauge mountain line in Europe, a milestone in the history of railway line construction. In order to overcome the 459 metre incline to the top of the pass and the 271 metres back down again, the Semmering Railway requires 42 kilometres of track, 14 tunnels, 16 viaducts, more than 100 stone bridges and culverts, as well as gradients that repeatedly reach maximum values of 28%, not far off rack-and-pinion territory. The railway masterpiece was designed by Carl Ritter von Ghega, the Venetian-born son of Albanian parents, who rose to become a chief engineer of the Southern Railway in the mid-19th century: a typical engineering career under the imperial-royal monarchy that united the nations. The line was constructed between 1848 and 1854 by approximately 20,000 workers; incidentally, a third of these workers were women.

The charm of the fin de siècle

At that time, members of Viennese high society could reach the alpine region within an hour by train. As a result of the new connection, the area surrounding Semmering developed into the summer retreat of choice for those of money, rank, nobility, or culture in Vienna. The playful villa buildings and grand hotels, the charming spa park and the traditional spa theatre in Reichenau, the promenades of Semmering with the grandiose panorama of the breathtaking railway line of the Semmering Railway: The charming flair of the fin de siècle is still largely present today in one of Europe’s once-leading climatic health resorts.

Summer retreat and ski resort

Semmering is also now well-frequented in winter thanks to its well-developed ski slopes. Yet the very inner essence of the region is a restrained one, subtly combining past and present in an elegant fashion. Visitors can walk through the quiet forests, stand in awe before magnificent Wilhelminian villas, and even spend the night in style in buildings from the Belle Èpoque. Wherever you might find yourself in Semmering, you stand a chance of hearing the rattle of world-renowned train wheels somewhere in the distance.