You don’t need a train spotter to tell you that the Semmering Railway is a little bit special. Running 42km between the towns of Gloggnitz and Murzzuschlag, the line – a World Heritage Site – winds through the last surge of the eastern Austrian Alps before they taper off into the Hungarian plains. Of course, the mountain landscape is spectacular, but the railway itself rightly grabs your attention.
Built between 1848 and 1854, it is a daring feat of civil engineering that uses sixteen viaducts(several supported by two-storey arches), fifteen tunnels and over one hundred curved stone bridges to surmount the 460m difference in height. The engineer was Carlo di Ghega, a man who pushed the technical boundaries during the pioneering heyday of railway construction.
The track had to rise up over a kilometre-high mountain pass – which then became the highest altitude that could be reached by railway in the world – and overcome extreme radii and upward gradients. Twenty thousand workmen laboured to carve the vision from the limestone rock; such was the feat that afterwards it was triumphantly claimed that there was nowhere that a railway could not be built.
The Semmering Railway is s harmonious blend of technology and nature. It created the first modern tourism phenomenon, as the rural idyll became readily accessible to the Viennese elite. The steam engines that once worked the rails were replaced with electricity in 1959, but the architecture of the grand old line remains. The quality of the old tunnels and viaducts means they have been used continuously, and as you make the ninety-minute journey, it takes little to image that you’re inside a stately old engine as it curves around the exhilarating Kalte Rinne or Krauselklause viaducts
A single, one-way, first-class Gloggnitz to Murzzuschlag ticket costs €17. Book at www.oebb.at.