The Prague Semmering: Scenic rail route still going 150 years later
Exactly 150 years ago, on September 16, 1872, the first passenger train was launched on the so-called Prague Semmering, the most picturesque railway line in the Czech capital. The line, which is listed as a cultural monument, earned its nickname due to its hilly profile, resembling the famous Austrian mountain railway.
The Prague Semmering refers to an eight-kilometre section of the railway line connecting Prague’s Smíchov station and the district of Jinonice. The railway runs across the Prokopské and Dalej valleys, passing through deep cuts in the limestone cliffs and overcoming a considerable altitude difference.
Bohumil Augusta is the head of the KŽC transport company, which operates the weekend trains:
“One hundred and fifty years ago, all routes to Prague through valleys and along waterways had already been taken by other railway lines. The Buštěhrad Railways, which was a private company, was looking for a new route to get to the city centre. Its primary interest was of course the transport of coal.”
The construction of the new line started in 1862 and included two stone viaducts, which were built by Italian stonemasons in just 17 months.
The railway was originally intended only for freight traffic, which was launched on July 3, 1872. However, two months later, on September 16, 1872, first passenger trains were also introduced.
While it was mainly used for transporting coal and wood, the Prague Semmering soon became a popular destination for sightseers who wanted to enjoy the breath-taking views of the capital.
The Prague “mountain railway” enjoyed its heyday in the 1970s, when the Czech Railway Administration considered the construction of a second track.
However, in the late 1990s, passenger numbers started to fall and there was even a talk of the line’s closure. Luckily, that didn’t happen. In 2002, during the devastating floods, the Prague Semmering briefly served as a replacement for the flooded metro and was also used for diverted freight trains.
In recent years, the line has enjoyed renewed popularity. Apart from a regular connection between Prague and the town of Rudná, people can ride one of the old-fashioned motor-coach trains that run along the line at weekends.
Petr Kužel drives one of them:
“That line has quite a steep ascent. From the Smíchov station to Jinonice, it climbs about 93 metres. Since I am driving trains that were manufactured at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s, it is important to regularly monitor the temperature of the water and the combustion engine, as well as other things.”
On the weekends, passengers can also enjoy a twice-daily steam engine ride on the track. Looking from the window, they can admire the views of Vyšehrad Castle, the panorama of Prague Castle and the historical centre, as well as the skyscrapers in Pankrác.
But the Prague Semmering also offers some unique natural sceneries, namely the Prokopské and Dalej valleys, which make you forget that you are still on the territory of the Czech capital.