Extension of the Transportation Network

The modernization of the Transylvania roads — which traverse a difficult terrain ringed by mountains — began in the 1850s. The empire's military and economic priorities determined which roads would be improved to become the highways known as Reichs-strasse; according to contemporaries, the original tracks could hardly be called roads. The first to be improved were those in southern Transylvania, although even the imperial road linking Temesvár, Nagyszeben, and Brassó had sections that were impassable in bad weather. By 1851, new roads led to the mountain passes at Törcsvár, Ojtoz, and Vöröstorony, and road builders were at work in the Tömös Pass. In the 1860s, merchants could cover the distance from Vienna to Brassó in four to five days, and merchandise in ten days, a marked improvement over the weeks or even months that it would take in earlier times. The mail coach from Transylvania reached Bucharest in two days — unless a spring thaw made the Prahova valley impassable for a month or two. In 1860, Transylvania had 230 miles of reconditioned roads, of which two-thirds were in the southern region. Good roads led from Nagyvárad through Kolozsvár to Beszterce, Szászsebes, and Marosvásárhely, and from Nagybánya to Dés. It took a few decades for Kolozsvár to be linked by 'paved roads' to its economic hinterland, the vineyards of the Szilágyság and the orchards and grain fields of the Mezőség. The cutting of roads through difficult mountain terrain was begun in the absolutist period, notably at Borszék, Parajd, Predeal, and Nagyapold. As the volume of mail and passengers rose, it became {3-466.} common to dispatch daily mail coaches between towns; mail coaches travelled the well-built road to the Bukovina as well.

The second burst of modernization began in 1890, when new circumstances facilitated the repair and maintenance of county roads. By the end of the century, Transylvania had 753 kilometres of roadway laid on a stone foundation, and 1,250 kilometres of ordinary public roads. The 4,204 kilometres of municipal roads, maintained earlier by collective labour, were now improved with the help of an annual road tax that raised around 1.2 million forints. The improvement of minor roads was done by local labour and took longer; at the end of the period, almost half of their total length of 7,126 kilometres was still wholly unimproved. When roads were damaged by huge floods in 1912 and again in 1913, additional funds had to be raised to cover repairs. Because of the terrain and the wide dispersal of settlements, the density of Transylvania's road network was greater than that of the country as a whole. The development of a new postal system began in the 1850s. When the postage stamp was introduced, mail rates were reduced by half, and in 1851 the tariff for the mail coach was cut. Mail service was provided by private fast coach enterprises as well as by the state system.

The telegraph system was introduced in Transylvania on 20 April 1853. By the end of that year, telegraph lines stretched from Temesvár as far as Brassó. The next year, Gyulafehérvár, Kolozsvár, and Beszterce were connected to the network, and a line was laid through the Vöröstorony Pass to reach Bucharest. Thanks to political and military priorities, within a few years the telegraph system spanned the entire province, and it soon proved its utility for commercial transactions and private communications as well. After 1867, the extension of the telegraph went hand in hand with that of railways, and for a long time the railways' lines carried private telegrams as well. By 1914, Transylvania had 558 telegraph offices. The installation of telephone lines started at the end of the century. Temesvár and Arad were quicker off the mark than Transylvania, but in the early 1890s a so-called official telephone network was set {3-467.} up in Kolozs, Alsó-Fehér, and Kis-Küküllő counties, with links from Kolozsvár to the Érc Mountains and the Zsil Valley, and this network could also be used for private purposes. Another, smaller telephone network was created in and around Brassó. The state's trunk lines reached Temesvár and Arad in 1893, and later Kolozsvár as well. (Telephone exchanges functioned in Kolozsvár, Brassó, Nagyszeben, and Marosvásárhely, and by 1910 they had to be expanded.) In 1905, the telephone link was extended to Romania; newspaper correspondents benefited from significantly reduced rates. The last years of peace saw the most rapid growth in the telephone network; in 1914, Transylvania had 6,525 'telephone stations,' proportionately more than Hungary as a whole.

The volume of telegraph and telephone communications was tiny compared to that of ordinary mail. Beginning in 1855, letters had to be delivered directly to the addressees, although this did not become a practice in rural areas until 1900, and only in 1914 was daily postal service extended to all localities.

West of Transylvania, the transportation revolution involved water as well as rail. In Transylvania, only the lower stretch of the 876-kilometre long Maros River was suited to the development of water transport. Its course was modified by cuts in the 1850s, thus facilitating the floating of logs to the vast timber yards of merchants in Szeged, and making safer the traditional route for the shipment of thousands of tons of salt each year through Marosújvár. If the Olt River had been made navigable, it would have allowed for the shipping of lumber from Csík, Gyergyó, and Fogaras across Romania to the Black Sea, and, in the other direction, of crude oil and corn to Transylvanian processors and distillers. A tempting example was that of Temesvár, whose trade had been served by the Béga Canal since the 18th century; progressively widened between 1900 and 1917, the canal eventually allowed 650-ton ships to reach this dynamically-developing city. However, commercial transport on the Olt remained but a dream.

{3-468.} Railways were at the heart of the transportation revolution, and their development arose from the joint efforts of the state and private interests. In Transylvania, long political debates preceded actual construction, which essentially got under way only after the 1867 Compromise.

'No other railway project has been the subject of such exhaustive debate in leaflets, memoranda, and the press,' wrote a contemporary in 1866, in reference to the plans for a rail network in Transylvania; that project, 'owing to party politics, and to intervening events, has become Austria's most complicated railway problem.'[1]1. Count E. Zichy, Egy szó az erdélyi vasútról (Pest, 1866), p. 7. Indeed, the era was marked by debates about railways. The question of a Transylvanian rail line had already been addressed in 1848 by the national assembly, and the surveying of a track was begun on the Nagyvárad–Kolozsvár section, although the difficult terrain led the ministry to prefer a route along the Maros valley. After the failure of the war of independence, the engineering studies disappeared into the archives of the Buda military court. There followed a ten-year battle over the priority between an Arad–Gyulafehérvár–Nagyszeben line and a Nagyvárad–Kolozsvár–Brassó line, for it was clear that the decision would determine for a long time which would become the principal axis of transportation. The Kolozsvár–Brassó route was favoured by representatives of the Hungarian landowning class, and by prominent spokesmen, Saxons and Romanians, for the economically most developed town, Brassó; Nagyszeben's bourgeoisie, which was economically weaker, but politically more influential at this time, had a vested interest in the construction of a line from Arad. The Viennese finance ministry also favoured the latter route, which, according to some Hungarian liberals, 'was destined to reward criminal schemes directed against our country's constitution.'[2]2. 'A szamosvölgyi vasút ügyében,' Magyar Polgár, 2 September 1868. In the event, Austria's state finances took a turn for the worse in the mid-1850s; far from building a new line, the state was compelled to sell the existing railways. In 1855, a Franco–Austrian consortium bought the Pozsony–Pest–Szolnok–{3-469.} Szeged railway for 65 million forints, and it also acquired the 133-hectare public estate at Krassó, which included coal mines, iron-smelting works, and woodlands. The newly-formed Austrian State Railway Company (STEG) developed large tracts of land and built a rail line linking Szeged, Temesvár, and Orsova; it thus became virtually a state within the state, and exerted a major influence on Hungarian economic policy for the next two decades.

The advocates of the two Transylvanian railway projects competed for official sanction and for private bids. In 1856, a committee was formed under the presidency of Count Ferenc Tholdalagi to develop plans for the Kolozsvár line and for a joint stock company. Since Transylvania lacked both the capital and the administrative infrastructure needed to construct a rail line, the Austrian government could exploit the railway issue as a lever in domestic politics from 1861 to 1865. Fully aware of the landowning class's demand for the development of transport, the government tried to lure its representatives into the common parliament by making promises for a railway. Vienna's official position was that 'the opportunity is within the reach of you Hungarian gentlemen, just join the Reichsrat and you will have your railway.'[3]3. Zichy, Op. cit., p. 21. In 1863, the Reichstrat decided to have the Arad–Szeben–Vöröstorony line built at public expense, and since a famine was raging at the time, the earthworks were started as a welfare measure. Two years later, the project was reduced to the Arad–Gyulafehérvár section, at which point the Rothschild Bank, and then the Hungarian-managed Tisza Railway (Tiszai Vasút) Company withdrew from the project. Eventually the Rothschild-backed Brassó Mining and Foundry Joint Stock Company took it over, and, in 1867, it founded a new company, the First Transylvanian Railway (Első Erdélyi Vasút), with a capital of 35 million forints; it was this company that finally began the railway's construction.

The supporters of the Kolozsvár line also lobbied in Vienna, though with less success than their opponents from Szeben. They {3-470.} did, however, exploit their influence with Hungarian liberals: In 1866, some one thousand localities and wealthier landowners registered their commitment, at the Kolozsvár chamber of commerce, to provide 200,000 days of manual labour, 23,000 deliveries, and plenty of wood, stone, lime, and bricks for the construction of a railway. Most towns and many individuals were ready to donate land for the rail line, even if they were in no position to offer money; two Transylvanian 'consortiums' also offered to help. But enthusiasm could not compensate for the lack of capital. Thus it was only after credit conditions improved that a third company, the Eastern Railway (Keleti Vasút) Company (with the collaboration of the English Baring brothers and of the Anglo–Austrian Bank), started construction on four sections of the projected 604-kilometre line, on the basis of Act XLV of 1868. The minister of transport in the 1867 government, Imre Mikó, expected that the Kolozsvár–Brassó–Galaţi railway line would end 'Transylvania's isolation from the common homeland and from the west,' and he hoped that it would 'link the Pontus both with the Adriatic and with the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, the boundaries of the north German homeland.'[4]4. Mikó's memorandum was published in G. Újhely, A vasútügy története (Budapest, 1910), pp. 494-5.

The first train entered Gyulafehérvár on Christmas Day 1868. The new 211-kilometre track made Transylvania's onetime capital accessible by rail from Arad, Pest, and Vienna. There was greater rejoicing when, on 7 September 1870, the long-awaited Nagyvárad–Kolozsvár section was opened to traffic. The laying of track across Transylvania proceeded apace; it reached Tövis and Marosvásárhely in 1871, Medgyes, Segesvár, and Nagyszeben in 1872, and Brassó in mid-1873. The 633-kilometre railway line, built by some 20,000 workers, brought Transylvania out of its isolation by gradually connecting the major towns (and their products, which included grain from the Mezőség and salt from Torda, Parajd, and Marosújvár) to the monarchy's modern transportation network. The Eastern Railway connected at Tövis with the First Transylvanian Railway, which carried the brown coal from Petrozsény and the iron from Vajdahunyad {3-471.} to the country's markets. The original plans notwithstanding, after the two lines were connected, Transylvania's main rail link to the rest of the monarchy passed through Arad.

In 1872, there operated on the Arad–Gyulafehérvár line 44 locomotives, 94 passenger cars, and 1069 freight cars; they carried 420,000 passengers and 733,443 metric tons of freight. The Eastern Railway's 42 locomotives, 111 passenger cars, and 651 freight cars carried 491,000 passengers and 403,947 tons; its locomotives were less powerful, and because some portions of track were badly built, derailments and accidents were common. Rapid development began in the 1880s, after the effects of the economic slump of 1873 had dissipated.

The first railways were built by private companies and with the aid — even in the case of the Eastern Railway — of West European share capital. To stimulate investment, the state treasury guaranteed that the operators would make a profit even in the initial period, when the railways were not otherwise profitable. The so-called interest guarantee, which ensured a return on capital of 7.5 percent, was a heavy obligation for the state and, in the case of Transylvania's railways, clearly disrupted the state's budget. When the British contractor withdrew after completing the first few sections, the government had to step in and assist the parent company with credits and advances. After a series of dubious business deals, construction setbacks, and bursts of outrage in parliament, the state ended up by purchasing the Eastern Railway in 1876. That railway, together with the Northern Railway and the Tisza Railway, which had been acquired in 1880, formed an extensive network that became the core of the state-owned railway system. When, in 1884, the First Transylvanian Railway was also nationalized, Transylvania's main railway network became part of the MÁV (Magyar Állami Vasutak; Hungarian State Railways), which had a mandate to serve the country's economic interests.

{3-472.} The competition between the MÁV and the Austrian Public Railway Company led to the creation of two connections with Romania in 1879. When the projected costs made Romania reticent, the Budapest government drew on the support of German banks to coerce Bucharest into the construction of a link between Brassó and Predeal; the Romanian government preferred a junction at Orsova, which was duly built by the Austrian Public Railway Company. These rail links facilitated the importation from Romania of grain, which was much in demand by distillers.

The secondary rail lines were built in the new wave of construction that got under way in the latter half of the 1880s. By then, mayors were no longer disposed to steer railbuilders away from their towns in order to protect the interests of old-fashioned innkeepers, carriers, and coachmen, for railways bore the promise of economic growth. Rail even benefited horse-powered cartage: merchandise traffic at railway stations compensated for the fact that on some routes the trains had killed long-distance road transport. Displacing earlier plans for a horse-drawn railway, the steam-powered Szamos Valley Railway was built between 1880 and 1890. The 204-kilometre line linked Szamosújvár, Dés, Zilah, and Beszterce with Kolozsvár, and, in 1890, it was extended by the takeover of the Zsibó–Nagybánya line. The Szilágyság Railway operated on the Nagykároly–Szilágysomlyó–Zilah line. Marosludas was connected with Beszterce, Marosvásárhely with Szászrégen, and Segesvár with Székelyudvarhely. These were mainly privately-owned 'local-interest railways,' of poorer construction, and with a capacity adapted to local needs. The capital was raised from big landowners, lumber companies, mine-owners, factories, municipalities, and counties, at times with a contribution from the state. In time, most of them were taken over by the MÁV, which brought technical advantages and gave better service to shippers. Some lines had to be taken over simply because they ran a deficit and would have otherwise been closed by the owners.

{3-473.} Because of its economic backwardness and difficult terrain, the Székelyföld was the last region to benefit from rail. It took much pressure from the Marosvásárhely chamber of commerce (which had been founded in 1891) and from advocates of the Székelys' interests before a law was passed in 1895 providing for a railway. Starting from an existing spur line, the track was laid through Sepsiszentgyörgy, Csíkszereda, and Gyergyószentmiklós to Szászrégen and on to Marosvásárhely, where it joined the main line. Later on, a link was made with Romania through the Gyimes Pass. These 'secondary main lines' were essentially completed by the turn of the century, though additional work continued until at least 1909. Around 1868, it was Székelys who built the tracks at Kolozsvár, but when it came to the lines planned for 'the assistance of Székelyföld,' there was a shortage of local labour; many Székelys had migrated to other regions, and those who stayed preferred other work, so that workers had to be brought in from the outside.

After the turn of the century, the railway network continued to expand, although by now all significant localities were reached by rail, and three junctions had been constructed across the Carpathians. The cost of rail transport was reduced by the introduction of zone tariffs; the price of tickets on the Budapest–Brassó line, for instance, decreased by one fifth, freight rates were reduced, and discounts were offered. Major improvements were effected in the 1890s. Iron rails gave way to steel, many wooden bridges were replaced, signalling equipment was modernized, and more economical and powerful, faster locomotives were put in service on long-distance runs. It became possible to travel from Pest to Kolozsvár in 8 hours, from Brassó to Nagyvárad in 12 hours, from Tövis to Arad in less than 5 hours. The Budapest–Arad–Tövis track became one of the MÁV's main lines, and substantial sums were spent on its modernization. When output was boosted at the Zsil valley coal mines, and at harvest time in the autumn, the demand for rail transport outpaced the supply of freight cars; fifty daily {3-474.} trains, each of 150 axles, overloaded track capacity, and construction started on a second track in 1913. Growing passenger demand led to the introduction of various motor-coach lines after 1914; regular bus services connected Zilah–Szilágysomlyó–Csucsa (Ciucea) as well as Szentágota–Nagysink–Alsószombatfalva.

Transylvania's railway network, one of the least dense in Europe, had a number of shortcomings. There was still no link to the Bukovina. No one was satisfied with the Székelyföld line, least of all the Székely producers, for freight from Csík and Gyergyó had to make a long detour before reaching the main lines. (To travel by rail from Székelyudvarhely to Marosvásárhely, one had to cover three times the direct distance between the two towns!) A third of the local lines was narrow-gauge, including those linking the Mezőség with Marosvásárhely, Torda with Topánfalva and Abrudbánya, and Nagyszeben with Szentágota and Segesvár.

Nevertheless, the railway network ranked among the outstanding achievements in the development of Transylvania. Great technical progress was made in mastering difficult terrain, in the building of bridges, viaducts, and tunnels, and in coping with recurrent landslides and floods. (Eleven tunnels were built on the Nagyvárad–Predeal stretch and nine on the Piski–Petrozsény line.) Through the tenacity of engineers, skilled workers, and labourers, a railway system was created that in many respects determined the economic future of this developing region. At the start of World War I, Transylvania's 2,384 km of railways constituted 11 percent of the Hungarian network. There were 6.7 km of track per 100 sq.km., or 1.02 km per 1,000 people; this was lower than the national average, but higher than in other East European countries.