The construction of a transcarpathian railway in the Hutsul region

railway carpathiansItalian rail constructors in the Carpathians

From the middle of the XIX century, an intensive industrialization of Austria-Hungary was launched and a need arose to exploit the rich forest resources in the Carpathian Mountains that at that time belonged to the empire. In order to gain access to these riches empress Maria-Theresa ordered the construction of a railway. Only good specialists could achieve this task in a mountainous region. Such were hired in the mountainous regions of Northern Italy. These had recommended themselves during the construction of rail-tracks, bridges, tunnels, fortified walls and other buildings in the Alps.

Only good specialists could achieve this task in a mountainous region. Such were hired in the mountainous regions of Northern Italy.

There are few written sources about the construction of a transcarpathian railway in the Hutsul region, but if one adds narrations and memoirs of local witnesses and the descendants of the Italians, then they together allow a more or less full picture of this historic development. In 1870, the parliament in Vienna discussed the imperial wish to construct a rail-track Sighet-Maramaros-Trebushany-Bily Potik-Yasinya and connect it with the rail-track Voronenka-Nadvirna-Stanislav, which was then under construction.

stone quarry in dilok

Stone quarry in dilok

Rail-track Stanislav-Voronenka

During the on the spot planning of the rail-track Stanislav-Voronenka Austrian engineers came upon huge resources of good quality construction materials – first of all the sand resources in Yamna. At that time on the basis of calculations of the Society of Austrian Engineers in Vienna stone bridges in the valley of the river Prut appeared to be cheaper than the originally planned metallic bridges. In consequence, stone quarries in this region went into exploitation and soon the stone was transported as far as to Vienna and Kraków. The stone quarry “Gorgany” in ownership of Jan Koler in 1907 managed to exploit 2.867 cubic meters. Not much smaller was the exploitation of the stone quarry in Dilok /Mykulychyn/, which was owned by the company “Engineers Krausch&Co”.

The construction of the rail-track Stanislav-Voronenka commenced in 1893. At the beginning of this year, three construction companies became active in the district of Delyatyn. One of these under the leadership of Epstein and Vlyav began work on the section Nadvirna-Delyatyn, another under the ownership of Wreiter, Czimberski, Koller and Kuchek became responsible for the section Delyatyn to Mykulychyn and the company of Zimberski – for the section Mykulychyn to Voronenka.

Construction of the bridge-viaduct in Yaremche, 1894

Construction of the bridge-viaduct in Yaremche, 1894

Construction of the tunnel in Vorenenka (Carpathians)

The construction undertook hundreds of specialists from Northern Italy and many villagers from the region. Only for the construction of the tunnel in Vorenenka were employed more than 150 people. Hords of Mazurians came to Transcarpathia, but they arrived too late and found no employment with a good salary, that is why they turned to criminal activities.

The huge amount of work and density of a few thousand workers in the valley of the river Prut forced the construction companies to erect barracks as living quarters and to construct warehouses, shops and catering facilities. In such a way previously small and quiet villages like Mykulychyn, Tatariv and Vorokhta lost their rural character and became urban towns. To service the villagers and the incoming workers a Post-office was opened in June 1893 in Dora and Tatariv. A year later, a telegraph service also opened in Tatariv.

Construction of the bridge in Yamna, 1891

Construction of the bridge in Yamna, 1891

The Austrian-Hungarian authorities employed the local population of Hutsuls. Basically they were engaged for unqualified manual jobs like delivering stones, mounds and sleepers for the rail-track. Generally, it was heavy manual work.

The roads were also adopted to the new situation stretches were evened, bridges and tunnels were built. Mostly Italians were employed to erect new buildings and local labour was engaged for manual jobs. The Austrian-Hungarian authorities employed the local population of Hutsuls. Basically they were engaged for unqualified manual jobs like delivering stones, mounds and sleepers for the rail-track. Generally, it was heavy manual work.

Carpathian railway bridges

In the valley of the river Prut, nine large stone bridges were erected. In Delyatyn a bridge over the rivers Lyubizhnya and Peremyska, in Dora – over the river Kamyanka and in Yaremche, Yamna, Tatariv, Vorokhta and Voronenka over the river Prut. The arch of the bridge in Tatariv is 22 meter wide and has a height of 5,8 meters. The two main arches of the bridge in Vorokhta are 49 and 34,6 meters wide respectively at a height of 10 and 17,3 meters. The largest of the bridges is the viaduct in Yaremche. It is 190 meters long; its largest arch is 65 meters wide with a height of 23 meters. Somewhat smaller was the bridge in Yamna – 122 meters long with an arch 48 meters wide. Both bridges were constructed under direction of V.Breiter from Lviv.

transcarpathian railway map carpathians

Most of these bridges were destroyed during World War I and rebuilt in 1920 onwards. The first larger bridge, namely over the river Lyubizhnya in Delyatyn, was erected 1892-1894 in cambered stone. It consisted of 5 arches, each 15 meters wide and of an arch 22 meters wide. The bridge was 275 meters long with a height of 32 meters. It was blown up in 1917, in consequence of the dynamiting the two central vaults were destroyed, and three other vaults were intensively damaged.

Construction of the tunnel on the rail-track. Carpathians, 1896

Construction of the tunnel on the rail-track. Carpathians, 1896

Tunnels of the Carpathian railway

Finally as to tunnels, the rail-track has three tunnels: in Yamna , Mykulychyn and Voronenka. The tunnel in Voronenka is 1221 long. The tunnels were constructed by Italian prisoners-of-war and hired workers during 1896-1899. The tunnels were digged through clay, what was easier than when a tunnel has to be drilled through stone. The tunnel walls are erected partly in steel tubes and partly in concrete. Stone was transported from a nearby quarry by train on a narrow rail-track from mountain Klyvka. For this purpose, a provisional depot was erected near the tunnel entrance. After the erection of the tunnel the depot and the narrow rail-track was dismantled. In 1961 the tunnel was re-constructed, because the new locomotives were too large and could not enter the tunnel. Its height before the reconstruction was 5,4 meters, now it is 6,2 meters. Until World War II, the length of the tunnel was originally 1303 meters. When retreating from Ukraine the Germans destroyed the entrances to the tunnel. They wanted to destroy the tunnel completely and for this reason drove for rail platforms with dynamite into the tunnel, but the explosives failed to ignite.

The biggest delay caused an outbreak of cholera, which Italian workers brought to Galicia from Hungary at the end of July 1893.

Oral recollections have survived about the construction of this longest Carpathian tunnel under the mountain pass called Zymir-Voronenka. In order to speed up the drilling of the tunnel the Italians who were responsible for the drilling contract decided to commence drilling on both sides of the tunnel simultaneously and meet in the middle. The Italian engineer, who projected the drilling, calculated the date and the spot where the two drilling groups would meet. When this did not happen, the Italian engineer whose name is not recorded, shot himself from shame. The meeting happened on the following day. The engineer had calculated almost everything correctly, even the spot where the two drilling brigades would meet. He had however not considered that the tunnel has to be drilled unevenly according the geological structure of the mountain.

Bridge in Delyatyn 1893

Construction of bridge in Delyatyn, 1893

Construction of the bridge in Delyatyn

The construction of the bridge in Delyatyn succeeded according to plan. However, there were a few setbacks. First, the office of the construction company of Epstein was destroyed by fire on 22 April 1893. This company suffered also repeated thefts of dynamite from offices in Delyatyn and Dora and in 1893 and in the same year after three days of continuous raining the river Prut overflowed and carried away almost all minor bridges and provisional roads to the rail-track and last not least heaps of construction materials. This meant unforeseen financial losses and delays. The biggest delay caused an outbreak of cholera, which Italian workers brought to Galicia from Hungary at the end of July 1893. When the cholera reached a peak in September of that year and when after at least 100 local inhabitants died from this disease, almost all foreign workers fled in panic from the region of the Prut valley without waiting for their salary.

Construction of the bridge in Vorokhta, Carpathians 1890

The construction of the bridge in Vorokhta, 1890

The outbreak of cholera in the district of Vorokhta led to a full interruption of construction work in the summer months and only with the winter, when the cholera died out, work was resumed on the rail-track. Until the summer of 1894 the rail-track was completed and railway stations in Nadvirna, Loyeva, Delyatyn, Dora, Yaremche , Mykulychyn, Tatariv, Vorokhta and Voronenka were completely constructed. On the 7th January 1894, the drilling of the tunnel in Voronenka was accomplished and slightly later, the stone working in the tunnel was completed. On the 10th May 1894, the monumental bridge over the river Prut in Yaremche was finished and all additional buildings on the whole length of the rail-track as also subsidiary rail-tracks were ready. A trial run of the train was planned for the 21st October 1894.

First train crosses new bridge Yasinya, Carpathians 1894

The first train crosses new bridge in Yasinya, 1894

Early rail track of the Carpathian towns

As we have described, the rail-track was constructed under extremely difficult conditions. The construction work, which was simultaneously undertaken on the whole length of the track, was in fact hard manual work without modern technical equipment. A difficult mountainous terrain with many rocky sections and the fast flowing highland river Prut and its many tributaries complicated the construction. On the other hand, in an actual retrospective the stability of the fortified walls along the rivers and the viaducts are very impressive. Erected manually from stone blocks without the application of cement mixtures the constructions have almost 150 years sustained more than one flooding by rapid highland waters. The seasonal workers that were organized for the work between spring and autumn came and went. Very few of them remained the whole year to guard the buildings and working instruments.

Voronenka Carpathians railways station 1894

Railway station in Voronenka, 1894

The opening of the rail-track Stanislav-Voronenka took place actually on the 19th November 1894. It was attend by Baron Wittek, the president of the Austrian-Hungarian state railways Bilinski, General Krak and other official dignitaries. The trained stopped in Nadvirna, Delyatyn, then alongside the monumental bridge in Yaremche and finally in Voronenka. In Yaremche, local representatives received Bilinski with traditional bread and salt. Bilinski held a short speech in the Ukrainian language.

From 19th November 1894, onwards the railway connection Stanislav-Voronenka is operated a passenger service on a daily basis.

From 19th November 1894, onwards the railway connection Stanislav-Voronenka is operated a passenger service on a daily basis. The train from Stanislav to Mykulychyn with an unchangeable timetable departs from Stanislav at 09.47 and 19.15 and arrives in Mykulychyn at 12.52 and 22.35 respectively. The retour from Mykulychyn leaves at 14.42 and 04.23 and arrives in Stanislav at 17.41 and 7.32 respectively.

Additionally on Sundays, the train at Mykulychyn continues to Voronenka. The timetable: departure in Mykylychyn at 23.14 and departure from Voronenka at 06.50. The travelling time on the whole length from Stanislav to Voronenka was 3 hours and 46 minutes and the retour took 3 hours and 14 minutes.

train station voronenka carpathians

The train station in Voronenka

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