Technology and Culture 41.4 (2000) 803-804
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Die Geschichte der Bahnen in Vorarlberg
Die Geschichte der Bahnen in Vorarlberg. 3 vols. By Lothar Beer. Hard, Aus.: Hecht-Verlag, 1994-99. Illustrations, tables, maps.
Vorarlberg is the westernmost tip of the present republic of Austria, bordered on the south by the Rhaetian Alps, on the west by the Upper Rhine, in the north by the Bodensee (also known as Lake Constance) and Bavaria, and in the east by the Arlberg mountain chain. The Rhine Valley is flat and fertile, and has been a popular thoroughfare in past centuries. The Romans used it to march their legions into Germania and established a fortress on the banks of the Bodensee called Brigantum, modern-day Bregenz (Vorarlberg). In Die Geschichte der Bahnen in Vorarlberg, Lothar Beer succinctly describes the history of the area, its road system, and its early economy, and then embarks on his story proper, the history of railways in the area. His first volume covers railways from their beginnings to the end of regular steam traction in the 1920s. The second covers the electrification of the Vorarlberger railways and carries the story forward to the present day, while the third covers every other conceivable form of rail transportation, such as regional or local tramways, forest and works systems, and even aerial cable systems, including ski lifts.
Railways came rather late in the area, despite the relatively flat terrain in the Rhine Valley. Bregenz-Dornbirn-Feldkirch-Bludenz opened in 1872, as a private company, with connections to Bavarian Lindau and to two Swiss cities (one by way of the principality of Liechtenstein) across the Rhine. The major towns of Vorarlberg were thus connected to the European network, but they lacked direct communication with the rest of the Austrian railway system and the other side of the Arlberg. It took more than ten years to construct a railway over and through--via the Arlberg Tunnel, just over ten kilometers long--the mountain. After the line from Bludenz to Innsbruck opened in 1884, Vorarlberg became part of the Austrian state railway system.
The end of World War I brought the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the loss of a large part of the region, but Vorarlberg remained in the now-fairly-small Austria. The loss of Bohemia and other regions caused a lack of good steam coal, and this in turn led to the building of hydroelectric power stations and electrification of the Arlberg line all the way to Bregenz in 1925-27. From 1938 until the end of World War II, the Austrian railways were incorporated into the German Reichsbahn.
Beer describes the railways of the Vorarlberg area in great detail, ably linking them with the economic development of the towns and the rural areas, and with the great changes brought on by the provision of easy communication with the outside world. On the other hand, the mass of detail sometimes tends to hide the free flow of the story, and it also leads to some repetition among the volumes. Several short biographies of engineers and [End Page 803] politicians connected with the railways are a nice touch. Hundreds of illustrations, plans, maps, tables, and figures support the text of these well-produced books. Lists of abbreviations, glossaries of technical terms, suggestions for further reading (in German, of course), and endnotes conclude each volume.
Augustus J. Veenendaal Jr.
Professor Veenendaal, of the Institute of Netherlands History in the Hague and the Netherlands Railways Company in Utrecht, has written extensively on railroad history in Europe and North America.
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