In search of a railway Europe : transnational railway developments in interwar Europe

E. Anastasiadou

Research output: ThesisPhd Thesis 1 (Research TU/e / Graduation TU/e)

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Most conventional histories that address the creation and development of railway networks start from national developments. Recent scholarship on this topic, however, has stressed the importance of formulating a transnational perspective on technological developments and infrastructural developments in particular. In this thesis I deal with railway developments in interwar Europe from a transnational perspective. My aim is to identify the actors that drove the internationalization of railways in interwar Europe and to examine their motivations. The materials used for writing this thesis were collected from archives of international organizations that played an important role in promoting international co-operation in railway affairs during the interwar years, as well as from railway journals of the period and secondary literature. In the first chapter I discuss the various proposals for the construction of transnational railway arteries in interwar Europe. As early as World War One, engineers and politicians began to formulate projects for the construction of "Transeuropean" railway arteries. Even if these projects were not realized, I argue that they are highly important for understanding the historical and political dynamics of Europe. Among other things they show how in the interwar years railways were pushed to serve the goal of Europe’s socio-political reorganization and to consolidate transnational alliances. In the second chapter I consider the various trajectories of international cooperation involved. A number of international bodies were geared to promoting the integration of Europe’s railway network. They worked on establishing international regulation and international standards that would facilitate railway traffic across borders. After giving an account of the most important of these bodies I look more closely at two developments. First I concentrate on the attempt to establish a convention on the International Regime of Railways (1923) within the context of the newly created League of Nations, whereby I assess the historical importance of this League’s attempt to put railways at the service of realizing its envisioned, global community. Second, I discuss the attempts of the allied nations to counterbalance the German influence in international railway affairs in the years preceding World War One. A specific result of this effort was the establishment of the International Union of Railways (1922). The third chapter, which centers on the limitation of the effort towards the internationalization of railways in the interwar years, is divided into two parts. In the first part I discuss the development of the services of the international sleeping car company in interwar Europe (CIWL), which offers a general indication of Europe’s international railway passenger services and its level of internationalization during the interwar era. This chapter’s second part, by contrast, focuses on problems and challenges of railway internationalization at that time. More specifically I will look at two failed efforts to establish international agreement on the standardization of technological features: the case of electrification and that of the automatic coupler. Next, Chapter Four provides a case-study of railway development in one European nation-state: Greece. My argument in this chapter starts from the assumption that the internationalization of European railways should also be looked at from a national perspective. The national context and the international context, after all, do not automatically constitute two conflicting spheres of interest. By zooming in on the case of Greece, I discuss how relevant developments at both the European level and the national level of Greece were co-constructed. Finally, in the concluding chapter I consider the two dominant paradigms of internationalization of railways in Europe during the interwar years. One paradigm concerned the construction of transnational railway arteries, while the other concerned the decentralized standardization of technical, legislative and administrative aspects of international railway traffic. As my argument in this thesis underscores, the second paradigm prevailed in the interwar years. Furthermore, the material presented in this thesis has broader implications for the historiography of both the internationalization of railways in Europe and European concerns in general. Although I conclude that an ad hoc European railway network was created in the interwar years, there was no shared European vision of railways. By contrast, the actors that promoted the internationalization of railways did so with having quite different transnational alliances in mind. This conclusion situates the recent European Union efforts to create trans-European railway arteries in a broader historical context, one in which different actors have tried to put railways at the service of realizing political-economic transnational alliances. As such the research presented in this thesis gives rise to new questions about the internationalization of railways and the shaping of contemporary Europe.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences
  • Schot, Johan, Promotor
  • Mom, Gijs P.A., Copromotor
Award date12 Jan 2009
Place of PublicationEindhoven
Print ISBNs978-90-7319-233-1
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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