In 1906, Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, solemnly opened the Bohinj Tunnel, one of the most important tunnels on the alignment of the new railway line connecting Central Europe with Trieste.
While this line was a great asset to the monarchy as a whole, it was an exit pass to the outside world for the people of Bohinj. After being hit with an economic disaster following the burning down of the Bohinjska Bistrica iron works, they were now offered new opportunities of development, most notably in the field of tourism.
The Bohinj Railway is called the final section of Transalpina* between the cities of Jesenice and Trieste. The construction of the entire Bohinj Railway alignment was extremely difficult due to all the tunnels and bridges that needed to be built. The largest building interventions were the construction of the Karavanke and Bohinj tunnels.
The preparatory and construction works on the Bohinj Railway started in 1900, and the tunnel was broken through in 1904. A year later the first test ride was carried out, whereas the finishing work was not concluded until 1906. All the hard work made even more difficult by the frequent ingress of water eventually materialized. The Jesenice – Trieste route was open for traffic on 19th July at a grand opening attended by Franz Ferdinand himself.
The Bohinj Tunnel is a remarkable technical monument whose length at the time of opening amounted to 6339 metres. The events during the final stage of World War II took 12 metres off its original length and robbed it of its magnificent portal on the Bohinj side. The construction of the tunnel caused some casualties whose memory has been honoured with a monument in a nearby Church of St. Nicholas.
Soon after the first railway connection between Vienna and Trieste (the Southern Railway) was built in the middle of the 19th century, the court in Vienna came up with an idea about a new railway line that would connect Trieste with Central Europe. Not until after 30 years of thinking, at the end of the 19th century, the court decided for the railway line through the Karavanken Mountains and Bohinj that proved most favourable, both economically and strategically. In 1901, the Vienna parliament passed the act on Transalpina (the railway connection between the Czech Republic and Trieste) – its final section between Jesenice and Trieste was named the Bohinj Railway.
The making of the railway in Bohinj was a very complicated project since many tunnels, bridges, etc. had to be built. One of the major construction challenges was the building of the Bohinj and Karavanken Tunnel.
Preparation and construction work began in 1900, and in 1902 a company managed by the well-experienced Giacomo Ceconi, who was awarded a noble title for the construction on the Arlberg tunnel, was chosen to do the job. Tiresome work, accompanied by water invasions, came to an end when the tunnel, permanently connecting the two sides of the Alps, was finally bored through on 31 May 1904. The last few meters were blown up by the Archduke Leopold Salvator von Habsburg himself. The work continued and on 1 March 1905, the first test drive was made.
Finishing took place in 1906. On 19 July the inauguration ceremony, which was also attended by the heir presumptive to throne Franz Ferdinand, was held and the railway line from Jesenice to Trieste was opened to traffic.
At the time of the opening, the tunnel was 6339 m long. Due to events during the end of World War II, it was unfortunately shortened for 12 m and left without the mighty portal on the northern side.
The beginnings of tourism date back to the end of the 19th century. Famous especially for its numerous natural wonders, Bohinj was well known in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. In 1887 the Carniolan industrial company built the first hotel in Bohinj, originally named Touristen Hotel and later renamed to Hotel St. Johann (St John’s Hotel).
The actual tourism boost, however, began after the opening of the Bohinj railway in 1906. The following year was of great significance for the development of tourism in the region. On 17 February 1907, The association for attracting foreigners to Bohinjska Bistrica, its surroundings and the municipality of Srednja vas, was founded in Bohinjska Bistrica, which issued the first tourist catalogue of Bohinj and became a member of The provincial union for the promotion of foreign traffic in the Carniolan region in the same year.
At that time, Bohinj prided itself with as much as eight hotels and a great number of private rooms. The catalogue provided a description of accommodation options, practical guidelines for tourists and a map of the region, and moreover, it was of an excellent design. The tourism offer in Bohinj increased significantly at the beginning of the 20th century – two major projects have to be mentioned at this point: the establishment of the Danica tourist resort by the Sava River in 1909 as well as the sleigh course Belvedere on the slopes of Kobla.
Moreover, the accompanying offer also did not fall behind. At that time, coachmen (fijakarji), the Bogomila boat that drove from the Church of St John to Zlatorog two times a day, an in 1911 even an omnibus that drove to Lake Bohinj, as well as some tourist walking paths were available to tourists. English and Slav reporters paid visits to Bohinj, and one of the most important guests in the region was the prime minister baron Beck.
But the people of Bohinj had even greater plans – one of them being the Triglav mountain cable railway, leading to the top of Mount Triglav, that nevertheless did not came to light.
The development of tourism in the years after the completion of the Bohinj railway was remarkable. Bohinj had already been gaining the image of a modern tourist centre in the monarchy of that time when in 1914 World War I broke out.
Riding a train offers a different view of the landscape traversed by the iron trail. If nothing else, you can use the car train to quickly get from one to the other side of the lower Bohinj mountains.
If you are looking for a unique experience, however, a ride on the museum train is an absolute must. Let the steam locomotive and technical animation take you over a hundred years back in time on this day-long trip on. No matter what you choose to include in your holiday itinerary, the Bohinj Railway is definitely a suggestion worth considering.