Matthias Schönerer (1807–81)

Matthias Schönerer (later awarded the title Ritter von Schönerer) was an engineer who pioneered railways in Austria.

Schönerer came from the area south of Graz in Austria, where his family were farmers and craftspeople; his father was a master painter-decorator. He studied at the Polytechnic Institute in Vienna. He began work under his former tutor, the railway pioneer Franz Anton Ritter von Gerstner, on the construction of the horse-operated railway from Linz to Budweis (now České Budějovice in Czechia). This was among the first public railways in Europe. In 1829, at the age of 21, Schönerer was appointed to manage construction following Gerstner’s resignation. The route was opened in stages between 1827 and 1836 from České Budějovice to Linz and Gmunden.

Schönerer educated himself in railways and the coming age of steam by travelling in Britain, where he met George Stephenson, and visiting America. As a result of his studies he was able to establish Austria’s first factory to make railway locomotives and wagons, at Vienna in 1839. He brought equipment, a locomotive and expert workers from Britain, including the factory manager John Haswell. At the same time he directed construction of the steam-operated Vienna-Gloggnitz Railway, which opened in 1841. In the following years he constructed other locomotive railways, from Mödling to Laxenburg in 1845, from Vienna to Bruck an der Leitha in 1846 and from Vienna to Ödenburg in 1847. From 1841 to 1853 he was operations director of the Vienna to Gloggnitz railway.

In 1856 he became director of the western line from Vienna, the Kaiserin Elisabeth-Bahn (Empress Elisabeth Railway) from Vienna to Salzburg. The Elisabeth railway took over the horse-operated project on which Schönerer had worked at the start of his career. He was awarded his title, Ritter von Schönerer, when it opened in 1860.