Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Transylvanian Railways and Access to the Lower Danube, 1856-1914

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Transylvanian Railways and Access to the Lower Danube, 1856-1914

Article excerpt

I.

In economists' stories about the emergence of regions into sustained growth, "infrastructure development" plays a central role; and among the components of this infrastructure, improvements in transportation and communications are accorded a place right alongside the evolution of a reliable money mechanism. Markets are integrated by improved transport facilities; markets then grow with the appearance of better transport facilities, because without such improvement supply is limited by the costs of hauling goods over longer distances; and growing markets in turn permit producers to specialize and reap economies of scale that they could not realize in a more limited sphere of operations. In terms of the eventual outcome of this cumulative process, it seems to matter little whether transport investment is a "leading sector," making possible the emergence of new activities (especially industrialization), or whether it follows investment in other sectors and thus validates their potentials. In this perspective, the blessings of infrastructure improvement fall evenly upon the economic landscape of the beneficiaries. In the long run, transport development is a positive-sum game.

The evolution of railroads in nineteenth-century western Europe provided ample evidence to support this view. And railroad construction served as a major integrative force even in predominantly agricultural Russia.(1) When we turn to southeastern Europe, however, the picture becomes much cloudier. To be sure, maps of the successive stages of railroad penetration into the region show encouraging progress toward the establishment of a network connecting major centers as well as linking the region with its neighbors. But the "long run" was a long time in coming, and development reflected not some overarching concern for the creation of an efficient network, but rather the conflicting interests of a host of actors. If we add to this the organizational and managerial problems of transferring a new technology to peripheral economies,(2) we gain a better appreciation of the turbulence behind those railway maps with their sanguine suggestion of a "system" evolving according to some rational master plan.

The dominant themes in railroad development were political and economic conflicts between the great powers and the emerging Balkan states, as well as within these same neighboring countries. As a consequence of this "stormy" birth process, the Balkan railroad network, whose trunk lines were in place by the turn of the century, not only failed to benefit all parties concerned but actually "...ran counter to some of the economic interests of the states through whose territory the lines ran "(3) In the case of the Habsburg Monarchy, one may argue further that its internal frictions were sufficient to prevent the development of a railroad scheme that was consistent with its own grand aspirations in southeastern Europe, let alone with the needs of its various component territories. Without a real convergence of political objectives, of visions of eventual economic benefits, and of military-strategic considerations, attempts to design and build anything like an "optimal" railroad system produced haphazard and often wasteful results.

Here we deal with just one part of the story, the role of Transylvanian railroad projects in the interplay between Vienna's "Drang zum Meer" and the region's and its neighbors' political and economic interests. This rather modest goal defines the scope of our investigation: it is a case study of a particular facet of change in a province whose economic development has been examined much more comprehensively elsewhere.(4) Our primary interest in the history of technological and economic change, and the relations between them, may limit our insights into the wider historical implications of our subject. Nevertheless, we can suggest that the Transylvanian case offers a prototypical (and relatively early) example of the factors that shaped railroad development in other parts of southeastern Europe. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.