One hundred years ago, Canadian observation cars were crossing the Alps. Looking for ways to attract more foreign visitors, Austria under Emperor Franz Joseph was very impressed by the rail tourism in the Rocky Mountains. Canadian Pacific Railway, which already had steamer services to Europe, agreed to partner up with the Austrian State Railways. The promotional campaign for the observation cars focused mainly on British, Canadian and American tourists.
The First World War put an early end to Canadian Pacific's European adventure. After the war, after being moved to Italy and having their Canadian branding stripped, the coaches slowly sank into oblivion.
by Arjan den Boer
Canadian Pacific Railway was established during the construction of the transcontinental railway between Montreal and Vancouver around 1885. In the following decades, Canadian Pacific lured wealthy tourists from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains with comfortable observation cars and grand luxury hotels.
The young nation of Canada also attracted attention in Europe. Austria sent over a delegation that was impressed by the modern Rockies tourism and invited Canadian Pacific to run carriages in Austria. In late 1911 an agreement was signed in Vienna between the Kaiserlich-königliche Eisenbahnminister and C.P.R.
In 1907 Canadian Pacific and a U.S. subsidiary started the Soo-Spokane Train Deluxe. This train connected Spokane on the west coast with Minneapolis, passing through both U.S. and Canadian territory.
The coaches had a typical observation platform at the rear. Cyrus Cuneo depicted them on a promotional watercolor similar to the one he later created for Austria.
The cars were a combination of Canadian and European design. The exterior was made of varnished teak with brass fittings. The undercarriage and the installations were adapted to European standards. With 22.6 meters the carriages were the longest in Europe. Divided over two compartments were 33 freestanding leather armchairs.
The first three cars were built by Ringhoffer in Prague in 1912, the remaining five at Nesselsdorf (Kopřivnice) in 1913. Besides the State Railway numbers 101-108 they also carried names, such as Canada, Europe, America and Austria. The lettering transfers were sent from Canada.
Originally the coaches were meant to have open observation platforms at the ends, as in the Rockies. This proved to be too dangerous in the long Austrian tunnels, so the cars were given semi-open glass platforms. Also in view of their extra large windows they were called observation cars or Aussichtswagen.
In August 1912, the inauguration of the Canadian cars was a multi-day event, attracting around 300 international guests. Austria wanted to put itself on the tourist map.
The guests were offered trips to Melk and Salzburg and a boat tour on the Danube. They had dinners with officials and receptions with members of the imperial family.
Via the Tauernbahn the cars traveled to Trieste, where the guests spent the night on a luxury steamer of Austrian Lloyd. The return journey was over the Semmeringbahn, which was not a state-owned railway and therefore not part of the regular route.
Wagons-Lits, the European operator of luxury trains, was probably not happy with the arrival of Canadian Pacific. The company broke up the monopoly that Wagons-Lits effectively had on the European continent before World War I.
Still Wagons-Lits chose to collaborate on the new train service, perhaps because it was Canadian Pacific's European agent for travel in Canada. When the deployment of Canadian staff proved unsuccessful because of language problems, Wagons-Lits even took over the day-to-day management of the coaches.
A Wagons-Lits dining car was attached to the Austro-Canadian train.
On one of the routes Wagons-Lits sleeping cars were used.
An American of Italian descent, Cuneo raised money with boxing to pay for an art course given by Whistler in Paris. He settled in London as an illustrator for The Illustrated London News and other magazines. Besides illustrations and posters he also made wall paintings for Canadian Pacific, but these have been lost. His son Terence Cuneo (1907-1996) followed in his father's footsteps and achieved great fame as a railway painter.
Many journalists had been invited for the inauguration — with great result. Canadian newspapers wrote proudly about Canada beginning to develop Europe rather than the other way around. The British press was especially impressed by the many celebrity parties. The Illustrated London News featured two full-page illustrations by Cyrus Cuneo.
The observation car service targeted British, Canadian and American tourists. Promotional materials were mainly in English. The watercolors Cuneo created for Canadian Pacific were used in magazines as well as in brochures. One brochure headlined The latest thing in Austrian travel.
C.P.R. coaches featured in the summer timetable of the k.k. österreichische Staatsbahnen on three routes. They ran from Vienna to Salzburg and Innsbruck. Westbound the Arlbergbahn ran to the Swiss border, with connections to Zurich, Paris and London. The cars also travelled south over the Tauernbahn and Karawankenbahn to Trieste on the Adriatic coast. Although Trieste was a stop during the inauguration ride, this route was not in actual operation until June 1913.
1st and 2nd class passengers had to pay a supplement of five kroner (one dollar) for use of the observation cars. There was an on-board library as well as a secretary providing typing and telegraph services.
Although equipped with batteries for electric lights, the C.P.R. cars were normally hauled by steam locomotives. A photo is showing the 'Britannia' with an electric locomotive on a special occasion. It was taken on the Mittenwaldbahn from Innsbruck to southern Bavaria, probably at the inauguration of this first Austrian electric railway in October 1912.
The Arlberg Railway was built between 1880 and 1884. Highlights were the 10-kilometer long Arlberg Tunnel and the 230-meter long Trisanna Bridge. The line runs from Innsbruck in Tyrol to the western Vorarlberg. The observation cars continued on to Buchs, just across the Swiss border. There were plans to continue the service to Zurich, but they were not realized.
When the Canadian cars arrived, the Tauern Railway had only recently been completed. The 8.5 kilometer Tauern Tunnel was put into operation in 1909. The Tauernbahn was part of an ambitious project: the transalpine railway or Neue Alpenbahnen, intended to connect the northern cities with Trieste in the south.
From June 1913 onwards Canadian Pacific cars ran to Trieste. The city on the Adriatic was then part of the Austrian Empire and of strategic importance as the country's largest trade port. It was a multicultural city where Italian, Slovenian and German was spoken.
Austrian Lloyd was the largest shipping company with liner services to Constantinople, Odessa, Alexandria, and to Bombay and Shanghai via the Suez Canal. After World War I Austria would lose its seaports and Trieste would be annexed to Italy.
Vienna and Trieste had a rail link by the Südbahn as early as 1850. The new Ferrovia Transalpina provided a more direct westward connection and was state-owned. In 1906 the line was given its own 'Stazione dello Stato' at Trieste. This was the terminal for the Canadian Pacific cars. The former station still stands as a railway museum, but the roof has been lost.
On the eve of World War I, relationships between Canada and Austria cooled. The cause was the steamer line to Trieste which Canadian Pacific started in March 1913. The line offered connection to the luxury train service, but also served a very different audience. Thousands of poor emigrants bought a one-way ticket to Canada.
Austrian and German shipping companies saw their monopoly threatened and started a smear campaign. Canadian Pacific was held responsible for a complete exodus of Austrian conscripts. The company was sued and its concession suspended. The observation car services were shut down, but activities unrelated to emigration could soon be resumed.
The Canadian Pacific steamships used for the Trieste service were Lake Erie (1899) and Lake Champlain (1900). They were renamed Tyrolia and Ruthenia for the occasion.
Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, with Austria and Canada in hostile camps, Austria seized Canadian Pacific assets.
The railway cars were used as a hospital train for the Austrian army, for which they were very suitable because of the space and freestanding chairs.
In the Canadian homeland Canadian Pacific coaches were also used as ambulance cars. During the war the company put itself entirely in the service of the British Empire.
Contrary to Canadian expectations the cars were returned after the war in a fairly good condition. Because there was no tourism in post-war Austria, Canadian Pacific sold the cars to the Italian railways. Painted green and with their lettering removed they ran as carrozze belvedere.
During World War II they served as hospital cars and shelter for displaced persons. After the war they were used on ever fewer occassions. The last two cars were scrapped in the 1970s. With them, the last remnants of Canadian Pacific's European adventure disappeared.
In the late 1920s the observation cars were part of a special train for Mussolini. In 1935 the cars were used by Mussolini for the last time to transport diplomats to the Stresa Conference. Shortly before, Mussolini got a brand-new 'presidential' train, nicknamed 'the rolling Palazzo Venezia'. On board were sleeping compartments, lounges and the secretariat of Il Duce.
Canadian Pacific Railway observation cars in Europe, 1912-1914
With special thanks to Nick Richbell, Canadian Pacific Archives archivist.
George Behrend, Luxury Trains. From the Orient Express to the TGV. New York 1982
Michael John, Push And Pull Factors for Overseas Migrants from Austria-Hungary in the 19th and 20th Centuries in: Austrian immigration to Canada. Selected Essays, Montreal 1996.
Omer Lavallée, Rails from the Vienna Woods, great Austrian Adventure in: CP Rail News Vol. 8, Montreal 1978.
Tour in Austria in: The Standard, 28 August-5 September 1912.