The History of the Vienna Subway

There is no clear-cut date as to when the Vienna metro was officially opened; actually, books on this subject tend to list no fewer than four different years. Here they are, along with reasons why they are or aren't adequate:

  • 1898 - in this year Otto Wagner's Stadtbahn (Metropolitan Railway) was officially opened. Today's metro is based on this system, but the Stadtbahn was a full-scale railway, operated with steam engines and run by the Federal Railways.
  • 1925 - in this year the Stadtbahn was re-opened after having been electrified and taken over by the city to be run as an urban rail service. However, the lines were basically the same as before and the rolling stock was converted tram cars.
  • 1976 - in this year the first new metro train went into operation on the short section between Heligenstadt and Friedensbrücke. However, passenger trains had been running on this section since 1899.
  • 1978 - in this year the first new tube tunnel between Karlsplatz and Reumannplatz was opened. There were huge festivities to celebrate the new metro. However, the new metro had already been in operation on line U4 for almost two years by then, and Otto Wagner's tunnels had been used by passenger trains for 80 years.

I personally think that 1898 makes most sense, especially if you take the example of the London Underground as an analogy: every source agrees on 1863 as its opening date, which was when a steam railway called the Metropolitan Railway started its services between Farrington and Paddington, later to be extended to link most major railway stations (the first electric underground trains in tube tunnels were opened in 1890, but that date is never listed as the official opening date). Now in Vienna, a steam railway called the Stadtbahn (literal translation: 'metropolitan railway') was opened in 1898, linking most of the major railway stations. I don't quite understand why criteria that work in the case of London should not be adequate in the case of Vienna. I think 1898 is what should be referred to as the opening date, although this is the date least mentioned in publications about the Vienna metro.

This diagram shows in which year passenger traffic began on the various sections of the present metro network:

Diagrammatic History of the Vienna Metro

Check out the animated version of the network map (69K), on which you can watch the Vienna metro network grow.

Today's metro system can be separated into three groups:

  • Otto Wagner's Stadtbahn of the 1890s (lines U4 and U6)
  • Converted underground tram tunnel built in the 1960s (line U2)
  • New lines built since 1969 (lines U1, U3, and U6 extensions)

Plans to build an underground railway in Vienna go back to the year 1843, when Heinrich Sichrowsky submitted plans to the city council, but it took another fifty years until the construction of an urban railway system in Vienna would begin.

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