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Do You Know That? A Legend Called Vindobona I.

Published: 25.11.2012
There are only few trains that are remembered as much as Vindobona. For more than 60 years it connects three countries, their capital cities and their people. What were the history and the present of the most overused middle-European route?

An idea to connect three capitals with an effective route is present for a long time, however, only after a rapid development of railroads during first decades of the 20th century brought first relevant solution. It is interesting that first particular plan to connect the most important European capitals emerged after the Second World War. It was the time when a long distance transportation had been renewed, the infrastructure had been repaired and international relations in the post-war Europe were convenient for a while. In 1951 the first express No. 54/5, “The Peace/Der Frieden”, moved off and connected Prague with Berlin. The beginning of this kind of international transportation was successful and thus in 1957 the line No. 50/51, “Vindobona”, set off and its schedule remained same for 40 long years! A new project of the administration of transportation in Germany, Czech ”ČSD (Czechoslovak State Railways)”, and Austrian ÖBB emerged.

Did you know that the name Vindobona comes from ancient Celtic, later Roman, settlement in the area of present Vienna?   

First trains were provided by DR (Deutsche Reichsbahn). However, there appeared problems of costs, profits, and maintenance of trains. Mentioned aspects had to be balanced between all three companies. Thus emerged an agreement establishing a rotation. According to that the trains were dispatched for two years by one of three above-mentioned companies. To better understand the principles of this transportation project it has to be add that until the 1990s train lines were reckoned as separate units (i.e. in the Czech Republic Pendolino or Leo Express ) and not as locomotives + any amount of carriages. Evolution of technology, raising demands for better comfort of transport and later also inefficiency caused decay of the project. It was very ineffective to create a custom train for one particular route to, after two or three seasons, transform it to another shorter route. We must realize that Vindobona project had modern trains long before other lines, which were equipped with older steam engines. The electrification of rails and inefficiency of diesel-run express trains  brought many new questions. Despite these shortcomings a regular exchange of trains between the three countries become sort of attraction, which made this 750 kilometers route more interesting.  According to the  original schedule the route went from Belin’s Ostbahnhof through Prague, Tábor, Gmund to final destination in Vienna at Franz Josefs Bahnhof until 1990s. Today’s modern corridors changed the length of the route, stations and also time of the ride (originally it was almost 12 hours!). Anyway, lets get back to the origins of Vindobona.

Lets go back to 1960s. It is a time when Vienna becomes a very important crossroad on routes between southeastern and northwestern Europe. During that time also were raising importance and interest to create a working communication route that can transfer not only normal passengers but also Top Secrets stuff. On the track covertly ran a black market mostly with Western goods and with alcohol or luxurious tobacco products. These were usually sent to resell by personal to socialistic countries of the East.

Regular passenger, that is a CSSR citizen, who was allowed to travel across state borders usually underwent stressful searching, had to take off clothes, explain ridiculous things and other types of chivvying connected with arrival and departure of his/her socialistic motherland. This customs control had been carried out usually between Tábor and border-crossing at České Velenice, or between Dresden and Děčín. Events of the summer 1968interrupted, for the time being, regular Vinobona schedule. If we examine details of schedule before and after the normalization period, we can find interesting links. There was a period when a part of train was every Saturday dispatched from West Berlin and the other part from East Berlin. Separated German families thus could meet only in Prague only to get back to their side of the Berlin wall together by the Sunday train….

Contemporary witnesses of the past can certainly remark upon dozens other interesting, funny or less pleasant memories and stories Vindobona witnessed. Maybe some old memories will come back to those who read these lines….  

The second part of our recall is going to be published next week and will focus on particular types of train carriages that you can see on this route. We won’t forget about Vindobona’s present days and the route’s possible comeback to the south of the Czech Republic. republiky.                                       

Text: Jan Chaloupka

Photo: Wikipedia Commons: R.Dresden, H.Ortner, Datei



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