Heritage History

130 years of the Kočevje railway

Inaugaration of the Kočevje railway

»Hey, how it crackled yesterday in Lower Carniola (Dolenjska), down towards Kočevska land! And rightly so. For such a national holiday promoting economic progress will not be celebrated soon by the local generation there, present or future, as yesterday was the day when the Iron Road was solemnly inaugurated /…/ It was a joyful day for the whole land of Carniola, but it was especially joyful for those places bestowed upon by the swift steam engine – provided by God and the Slovenian fortune! — a better future, just as it will bring it a year from now to another even wider region of our homeland. «

It was with this excitement that the newspaper Slovenski narod on 28 September 1893 chronicled the the solemn occasion of the inauguration of the Ljubljana-Kočevje line in an article entitled “Inauguration of the Lower Carniolan Railways”.

Kočevje railway Slovenski narod newspaper, report on the opening of the Kočevje railway, 28th September 1893
Report of the Slovene Nation on the opening of the Kočevje railway, 28 September 1893. Available here.

It was with this excitement that the newspaper Slovenski narod on 28 September 1893 chronicled the the solemn occasion of the inauguration of the Ljubljana-Kočevje line in an article entitled “Inauguration of the Lower Carniolan Railways”. This year, in September 2023, we will mark 130 years since the start of railway transport. A few decades earlier, Carl Ritter von Ghega, an engineer who, among other things, led the planning of the southern railway from Vienna via Ljubljana to Trieste (its construction began in 1839), and who is perhaps better known in Slovenia for the Borovnica viaduct, which was destroyed during the Second World War, had written: “Railways make distances disappear, railways promote material interests, they strengthen and extend culture.”

The “swift steam engine” came and went…

The Kočevje railway has certainly brought about changes. On the one hand, it has fostered economic development in industries such as coal mining, timber and trade, and on the other, it has brought a variety of educated people, new knowledge and ideas to Kočevska region. It has opened a window on the world to people, sped up the flow of information and reduced distances between places. But not everyone has welcomed the iron snake with joy. It caused a drop in profits, especially for roadside, coaching inns and horse and cart drivers.

In times of economic crises, trains also carried passengers to European port cities, from where they departed, especially for America, looking for a better life. 1941, a turning year in the history of Kočevska region, was also connected with the train. The Gottscheers who opted for resettlement were racially examined on the train at the Kočevje train station. In the winter of 1941/42, 135 train compositions took them to the German Reich or to the resettlement area in the Posavje and Obsotelje (Rann) region.

Kočevje railway Kočevje railway station. Josef Trapp, 1936
Kočevje railway station. Filmed by Josef Trapp, 1936, in the film Eine Reise durch Gottschee.

From idea to construction of the Kočevje railway

After the completion of the Southern Railway in 1857, ideas for railway connections to Lower Carniola began to emerge. in 1869, the first plans were drawn up for the construction of the new Ljubljana–Novo mesto line, which also included a connection to Kočevje. But it took almost 30 years to get there. In 1886, the Trbovlje Coal Mining Company bought the lignite mine in Kočevje and became the leading initiator of the construction of the railway line between Ljubljana and Kočevje. Fran Šuklje, a member of the National Assembly, and Baron Josef Schwegel expressed support of this, which brought the matter from a standstill, and on 1 June 1892 the first construction works commenced.

The first train started its journey on the 76.1 km long line and arrived in Kočevje on 27 July 1893, which was followed by a commission track inspection, and the official inauguration two months later.

Decommissioning and renovation of the Kočevje railway

Passenger trains on the Ljubljana-Kočevje route were discontinued after 1971 due to a decline in passenger numbers, mainly at the expense of the (then) more time-efficient car traffic on the Ljubljana–Kočevje Dolenjska cesta Road. The line’s renovation started in 2008 and was completed in 2020. There are 11 trains from Ljubljana to Kočevje during the week, 3 (Sunday) and 4 (Saturday) at weekends, and 13 trains running in the opposite direction, and 4 at weekends.

Restored railway tracks near Stara Cerkev (Mitterdorf), 2019. Photo: Anja Moric.
Restored railway tracks near Stara Cerkev (Mitterdorf), 2019. Photo: Anja Moric.

Underpass to Trata or the so-called “little tunnel”

Railway architecture also includes overpasses and underpasses. Kočevje residents are familiar with the arched railway underpass to Trata, known as the Tunnel. The stone beauty dating back to the construction of the Kočevje line allowed the townspeople to safely cross the railway tracks and enter the meadows and fields on the other side. When the line was overhauled in 2016, experts and the interested public, following lengthy debates, succeeded in preserving the “tunnel”.

Left to deteriorate: Original railway engine-shed and turntable

At the moment, however, the remaining, no less important, railway facilities in Kočevje are in not in a good condition. The original railway engine-shed and the turntable, built in 1893, have been preserved at the Kočevje railway station. The engine-shed, which accommodates space for two locomotive engines, is of coffered construction and the façade is boarded. In front of the engine-shed is a turntable with a diameter of 14.65 m and a load capacity of 80 tonnes. Despite the fact that the Kočevje engine-shed and turntable represent technical heritage that is difficult to find in Slovenia today and its preservation would be of utmost importance, the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of the Republic of Slovenia downgraded the importance level of its preservation in 2022 from urgent to “recommended”.

In the absence of recognition of the importance of this type of heritage by the owner – Slovenian Railways and the local community in Kočevje, the building will sooner or later fall into disrepair, despite the fact that only basic financial resources would be needed for its basic maintenance. The Kočevska region and the Republic of Slovenia will lose another monument of technical and railway heritage, and the Municipality of Kočevje will lose an opportunity for an interesting tourist product. The museum train, one of those that was so ceremoniously welcomed by the inhabitants of the settlements along the Ljubljana–Kočevje line in 1893, could steam through the Kočevska region in its “old manner”.

The original railway engine-shed from 1893 at the railway station in Kočevje. 130 years of the Kočevje railway.
The original railway engine-shed from 1893 at the railway station in Kočevje. Photo: Valentin Slaček.

– The National Register of Cultural Heritage: https://geohub.gov.si/portal/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=d6641ae60c0c47e9b027319f4f0f73
– Brate, Tadej in Ivan Kordiš. 1993. 100 let kočevske železnice: 1893–1993. Kočevje: Muzej.
– Fajfar, Simona. 2016. Kamnita dragotina je v nemilosti pri kočevski občini. Delo: https://old.delo.si/kultura/razno/kamnita-dragotina-je-v-nemilosti-pri-kocevski-obcini.html
– Kočevska proga. 2020. Ljubljana: Direkcija RS za infrastrukturo.
– Rustja, Karel. 2015. 120 let kočevske železnice. Kočevje: Pokrajinski muzej.

Kje vse danes živijo kočevarske skupnosti? Prispevek o Kočevarjih v Clevelandu najdete tukaj, o Kočevarjih v New Yorku pa tukaj.

This post is also available in: Slovenian German

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