The international relationship of Germany and France and their railway systems

Seminar Paper, 2010

17 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. The German RailroadSystem

3. The French Railroad System

4. Comparisons
4.1 Administrative Organization
4.2. Economic Competition
4.3. Military Strategy

5. Current French-German Railway issues

6. Summary

List of Illustrations

Table 1: Comparative Growth of National Railway Systems, 1830-1910

Table 2: Tonnage Entering North European Ports 1891-1896

Table 3: Total Rolling Stock, 1914

Table 4: Annual Average Real Military Expenses, 1880-1910

1. Introduction

The purpose of this study is to examine the Franco-German relationship putting a strong focus on the two different railroad systems. The first two chapters will analyze Germany’s and France’s railroad systems from their early starts until the beginning of the First World War in a compressed way. In the following step, the fourth chapter, both systems will be compared and contrasted to each other. It’s intended to show similarities and differences. A railway network can in general be regarded as a mirror of its national economy. A sustainable growth in a country’s economy can hardly fail to benefit its railroads. In the 19th century Germany’s railroads benefitted from a boosting economy whereas the French economy did not take into the same direction. This had remarkable effects on the commerce via rail and the French railroad network in total.[1]

This study will not compare the years after 1914 when the railways where primarily used to lead to the front. Each country’s economy and its inner political movements had comparatively minor effects in contrast to the military strategies and decisions.

A major challenge will be undoubtedly to fit all the necessary complexity into a single format. Therefore all comparisons shall be divided into three different aspects. At first the administrations of France and Germany shall be put opposite to each other starting with the railroads early years until the beginning of the 20th century. Additionally the two countries’ economies and their effects on the railroad construction will be analyzed. At last the military strategies will be examined, for example during the Franco-Prussian War and the remaining pre-war times.

In the 5th chapter current railroad issues of the two countries will be regarded. Mutual interests, alliances, but also rivalries and conflicts are a constant part in the history of two railroad networks, even to this day. They both share mixed railroad systems combining private, public and economic interests. The ultimate 6th chapter will summarize the obtained results.

2. The German Railroad System

Germany’s first railways were started to be built around 1810. All of them, like Munich-Augsburg and Nürnberg-Fürth in Bavaria or Leipzig-Dresden in Saxony were located within concrete boundaries. The country was not nationalized yet and various states felt a growing need to acquire their own rail lines. Starting from 1815 the German railroad map resembled a potpourri due to Germany’s ‘Kleinstaaterei’ at this time. With no central administration in place to regulate railroad networks, investors were completely free to pursue project after project. As profit was the most important indicator, railway construction in general tended to be quick and comparatively cheap. When railroads were extended, state frontiers were bound to be crossed. Interstate commerce soon became vital and there was a growing need for some kind of railway regulation on a regional, national and even international scale. Around 1870 the German railway system was a mixture of private and public owned railways. The general competition between the states caused further complications. Constant battles over rates, rights-of-way or regional interests dominated the majority of 19th century.

These topics still remained unresolved with the installation of the German “Kaiserreich”. This union with a strong Prussia and the more reluctant Southern states was not unproblematic, but economic possibilities served as a base for a functioning partnership. In 1870 Wilhelm was now the German Kaiser, Bismarck the chancellor, Moltke the military commander and Berlin Germany’s capital. With Berlin as a common capital, Germany could start now to assume a concrete form, where different states had to adjust themselves from time to time. The country’s character changed and its characteristic federalism was at stake.[2]

Railroads served during this time as a binding element. The new formed Kaiserreich had the challenging task to supervise Germany’s Railroads “in the interest of national defense and general transportation.”[3] This task accompanied the new nation until the early 20th century.

Generally the construction and extension of the Prussian state railway is considered to be the most impressive achievement on Germany railroad map. During this project a unified company was created with a railroad network covering most of Northern Germany. In 1895 Hessen’s and later in 1900 Württemberg^ railroads were attached to it. Nonetheless political competition between Germany’s states did not vanish and internal disharmony continued to stay. It was a challenging task to overcome the mutual suspicion with which the country’s main actors regarded each other. There were numerous conflicts like conservative defenders trying to protect the Hohenzollern monarchy or unrest in Prussia which was affecting the future direction of Germany’s railroads. Military interests in the railroad network’s use as a major battle fleet were standing opposite to the civilian wishes of a border-crossing transport medium.[4]

All this tendencies stepped in the background when Germany was united in the pre-war decade. Nothing like the years before 1914 brought the country closer together and fostered its railroad map.

3. The French Railroad System

In contrast to Germany, France had a central administration for its railroad network right from the beginning. In 1815 the Ministry of Commerce and Public Works which was responsible for the existing highways and canals was designated to supervise the country’s railroad constructions. In its capital, even a school, the Ponts-de-Chaussées in Paris was formed to train engineers for the upcoming tasks.

Around 1840 the number of major railroad enterprises devolved to six. Two of them are only of marginal interest here: the Southern Railway Company (Compagnie du Midi) and the Western Railway Company (Compagnie de l’Ouest), which was absorbed by the state. That left four main business firms forming the bulwark of the French railroad industry: the Eastern Railway Company (Compagnie de l’Est), the PLM (Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée), the PO (Paris-Orléans) and the Northern Railway Company (Compagnie du Nord).[5] The recurring tensions between these four large private enterprises comprised a central theme of the French railway industry.


[1] Meyer (1979), pp.54-56

[2] Hildebrandt (2010)

[3] Mitchell (2000), pp. 121-130

[4] Hildebrandt (2100)

[5] Mitchell (2000), pp.175-180

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The international relationship of Germany and France and their railway systems
University of Constance
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germany, france
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Michael Kipp (Author), 2010, The international relationship of Germany and France and their railway systems, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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