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Railroads Europe - International Roads

( Originally Published 1927 )

THE first railroad in France, the Paris and St. Germain, was opened in 1837. The tracks covered eleven miles, and the performance of the locomotive was regarded as a prodigious triumph. On the first day, the London Times reported, the train "started at twelve, to the instant, and then was the clatter of voices raised tenfold. `Il part—ce coursier de feu et de fumée! He snorts ! he snorts ! His prodigious tail of vapor floats in the firmament ! La voilà!' Even when the engine had attained its extreme velocity, the rattling of tongues was continued, one person shouting into a second's ear, and a third shrieking at the extreme pitch of his voice. `Cheval magnifique! Noble and intrepid horse which nothing can stop! He devours the way before him—he snorts ! He is clothed with thunder, like the horse of Job ! Corbleu! what a delicious motion—n'est-ce pas? Oui, c'est le plus grand plaisir du monde!' "

The St. Germain railway was a triumph; short railroads would be successful; but the government did not think the public needed trunk lines, which would be unprofitable. When the head of the govern-ment, M. Thiers, was asked for a charter for a railroad from Paris to Rouen he refused to grant it; "Iron is too dear in France," said the minister of finance; "The surface of the country is too broken," said one deputy; "The tunnels would be injurious to the health of passengers," declared another deputy.

Look at the railroad map of modern Europe. In every direction run trunk lines, with magnificent expresses. Some of the best known trains are the "Calais-Mediterranean Express," the "Pyrenees and Côte d'Argent Express," and the "Sud Express." The "Orient Express" provides through communication between London and Constantinople; there is also the "Simplon Orient Express" which furnishes another through route by way of the famous Swiss and Italian tunnel. This last-named express makes the journey from Paris to the capital of Turkey in about 84 hours, and of this about 15 hours is taken from the actual running time for stops at the various frontiers, where passport and customs regulations are complied with.

The "Sud Express" links Paris with Madrid, a distance of 909 1/2 miles, and with Lisbon, 1,187 miles. This train divides at Medina del Campo, 772 miles south of Paris, one section proceeding thence to the capital of Spain and the other to the capital of Portugal; both journeys are made at an average speed of a little more than 35 miles an hour. The "Rome Express" connects Paris with Rome by way of the Mont Cenis Tunnel, averaging about 31 miles an hour for the distance of 903 miles.

The "Pyrenees and Côte d'Argent Limited" carries passengers from Paris to the mountains between France and Spain and to the Basque seacoast. The "Calais-Mediterranean Express," popularly known as the "Riviera Limited," supplies a luxurious through service for English travellers to the fashionable watering-places in the South of France. A Pullman Limited train runs from London to Dover, where the passengers transfer to a cross-Channel boat ; arriving at Calais, the "Riviera Limited" takes them over the tracks of the Nord Railway the 187 miles to Paris at a speed of nearly 46 miles an hour. At Paris the train switches to the tracks of the Paris, Lyons, and Mediterranean Railway, and the journey of 695 miles to Ventimiglia, the French-Italian frontier station on the Riviera, is made in eighteen hours. The entire journey from London to the Mediterranean resorts is accomplished in approximately twenty-four hours. This is a magnificent train, made up of the coaches of the International Sleeping Car and Great European Express Trains Company, which is to Europe what the Pullman Company is to North America. This company has greatly facilitated travel across international frontiers by its dining-and sleeping-cars; it serves all the countries of the continent except those of Scandinavia and Russia, and even reaches to Algeria, Egypt, and Manchuria. To connect those countries its coaches traverse the tracks of the northern and southern French railroads, the Paris, Lyons, and Mediterranean, the French lines of Alsace and Lorraine, the State rail-roads of Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, and Italy, the roads of Jugo-Slavia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Czecho-Slovakia, Greece, and Turkey. On each of those divisions the company that owns the line is responsible for the motive power and the movement of the train, but the through coaches are those of the International Company.

Oddly enough, it was in the kingdom of Greece, that was once the centre of learning and the arts, that the railroad lagged more than in any other part of Europe. There was no overland railway communication with Athens until 1916. Prior to that time there were a number of scattered independent roads, most of them narrow gauge ; the most important of which was the system that wandered through the peninsula of Peloponnesus for a distance of 472 miles and communicated with the capital of the country.

The great through railroad that linked Paris with Constantinople passed by Greece, but did not connect with Athens. Lack of funds in the Greek treasury and the Balkan wars were largely responsible for this, but a railroad was projected to be built on the standard gauge, to run longitudinally through the peninsula, and to tie up the small independent lines that served various sections of the country. This road was to start at the port of Piraeus in the south and to travel north by way of Athens, Thebes, Livadia, and Larissa to the northern Greek boundary. This railway, as built, was a remarkable triumph of engineering, great viaducts and lengthy tunnels were frequently required, for the tracks had to be carried across many tremendous gorges and plough their way through precipitous mountains.

This Hellenic longitudinal road was of great benefit to Greece commercially, but its traffic was local, since it did not touch the through lines of Europe. To make it financially successful its tracks must be extended through Macedonia, and a contract to do this was made between the Greek government and the Société de Construction des Batignolles in 1914, by the terms of which the railroad was to be continued north from the Pappapouli terminus to Platz on the Monastir-Salonika Railway, a distance of 57 1/2 miles.

This connecting branch follows the high road from Athens through Macedonia, and runs near the shore on the western side of the Gulf of Salonika. It took nearly two years to build, but the cost of construction was more than justified by the great benefits acquired through the junction with the main line that runs through the port of Salonika to Constantinople.

The Hellenic Railway has become an important part of the great European international system. Athens is put into direct communication with Constantinople, Belgrade, Budapest, Vienna, and Paris; the Piraeus has become of large strategical and commercial value because it is the European port nearest to Alexandria and the Suez Canal; and other ports, Corinth, Patras and Nauplia, make great use of the steel highway that runs through the Peloponnesus and connects with the rails of the Orient Express.

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