Today in Transportation History – 1802: The Birth of an Austrian Engineering Genius

Carl von Ghega, who established himself as one of the leading transportation engineers of the Austrian Empire, was born in Venice, Italy. (At the time of von Ghega’s birth, Venice was under Austrian rule.) His father was an Austrian Navy officer, but von Ghega pursued engineering as his life’s work instead. After studying mathematics in the Italian city of Padua as well as road and hydraulic engineering in Venice, he played a major role in a number of transportation infrastructure projects. These projects included building a road between Cortina d’Ampezzo and Toblach in northern Italy’s rugged Alpine region.

Ultimately, however, von Ghega devoted the lion’s share of his attention and expertise to the design and construction of railways. A key example of his efforts in this area involved his contributions to the Emperor Ferdinand Northern Railway. From 1836 to 1840, von Ghega supervised construction of this railway’s track between the city of Brno and town of Břeclav in a section of the Austrian Empire that is now part of the Czech Republic. Von Ghega also found time to visit England, France, Belgium, and even the United States to learn more about developing railway systems.

Armed with the knowledge acquired through both these study tours and his own considerable hands-on engineering experience, von Ghega took on what is regarded as the crowning achievement of his career: the design and construction of the Austria-based Semmering Railway between 1848 and 1854. Von Ghega supervised approximately 20,000 workers as they built this railway – coursing over the Semmering Pass in the Northern Limestone Alps – between the towns of Gloggnitz and Mürzzuschlag.

In light of the formidable terrain and high altitude that von Ghega had to contend with when planning and developing this route, the Semmering Railway has been assessed by many as the world’s first true mountain railway. When completed, the Semmering Railway featured 14 tunnels and 16 viaducts as well as more than 100 stone arch bridges and 10 small iron bridges.

During the course of this project, von Ghega was honored with the designation of ritter (the Austrian Empire’s equivalent of “knight”) for his accomplishments. He was also appointed the chief of planning for the entire railway network within the Austrian Empire. Von Ghega died of tuberculosis at the age of 58 in 1860. At the time, he was overseeing construction of a railway in the Transylvania region of present-day Romania.

For more information on Carl Ritter von Ghega, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Ritter_von_Ghega.

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