Most sources I checked only present how the maximum train speed developed over time. For example, the top speed for a passenger train in 1854 was around 130 km/h. This record was set by a steam-powered train in the UK and I assume this was accomplished on a straight line with tracks in perfect condition and no passengers.

The average speed for train travel would of course be way slower. Train tracks have to bend and curve to match the surrounding terrain and depending on the level of maintenance, these tracks would not always be in the best condition, especially in rural areas. In addition, such trains would have to stop regularly at train stations, in order to allow passengers to board and exit the train.

According to Wikipedia, the average travel speed of steam railways went from 50 km/h in the 1870s to 90 km/h in the 1910s. But I’m not sure if these number reflect short, medium or long distance travel. This question focusses mostly on long distance travel. The following sub-questions are my main interest:

  • What is the average travel speed of a train going from one European capital to another in the late 19th century? The traveller in question would choose the fastest rail connection, probably avoiding regional trains in favour of long-distance traffic options. Of course I'm not looking for detailed statistics about the railway connection between each and every European country. Just the average speed a train would travel each day.

    • However, if someone has detailed information about the connection between Vienna/Paris and Vienna/Berlin, it would be much appreciated.
  • Would such trains also travel during the night? I know that sleeping cars are around for a long time, but I’m not sure how frequently they were in use on different routes.

  • How much would such cross-country trains be impeded or delayed by customs posts?

  • Similar question: history.stackexchange.com/questions/38762/… Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 11:18
  • Not between European capitals, but Wikipedia has some data on travel times Berlin - Hamburg (de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahnstrecke_Berlin–Hamburg; 2 biggest German cities): 1847 opening of the connection: 9:15 h (vs. coach 1 1/2 days). 1933 "Fliegender Hamburger": 2:18 h, avg. 123 km/h. That connection was world record. Regular steam-powered trains are quoted with 3,5 - 4 h (so 70 - 80 km/h avg.). Wiki says that B - HH was (is?) an important track for speed records (flat landscape, few and wide curves). Commented Jun 6, 2019 at 15:50

3 Answers 3


Using information about the Orient Express en de:

Orient Express around 1900

What is the average travel speed of a train going from one European capital to another in the late 19th century?

German wiki says: 48 km/h (over the whole length of the Orient Express)


was served by the Orient Express, duration: 2 nights + 1 day.


Accoring to this newspaper article about the (much later) Berlin - Vienna connection "Vindobona" there was a Berlin - Budapest variety of the Orient express. FWIW, the Vindobona Berlin - Villach had an average of ca. 90 km/h in 2014.

During WWI, the Balkan Express is quoted with an avg. of 32 km/h for Berlin - Istanbul. It also had a section going Berlin - Vienna.

Wiki on Orient Express mentions that there were Berlin - Vienna connections.

Would such trains also travel during the night?

The Orient Express was operated by the "Compagnie International des Wagons-Lits", so, yes, night trains.

Paris - Vienna is 1360 km and took "2 nights and 1 day" (Wiki), avg. of 48 km/h would mean 28.5-ish hours.

Berlin - Dresden - Prague - Vienna is about 800 km, so it took probably something between 16 and 24 h (for 30 - 50 km/h avg), thus maybe doable without night train, maybe not.


In Jules Verne's novel Around the World in 80 days (1873) the protagonists travel around the world in 80 days in 1872, going by steamships for most of the journey, but various railroads for most of their travel on land.

Phileas Fogg planned his journey using the timetables & schedules published by various steamship and railroad companies, and it seems quite possible that Verne actually consulted the schedules of the railroads in his novel. Verne was inspired by non fiction articles explaining that it was now possible to travel around the world in just a few months.

So the times, distances, and speeds of various train trips in Around the World in 80 days (1873) should give a good general idea of average train speeds in 1872. Other works of fiction by careful 19th century writers should give fairly accurate ideas of the speeds on various European train lines. (Some writers are very careless about such details).

No doubt there are online railroad history sites where you can ask questions about specific lines at specific times.


Since the other answers don't answer the question about border crossings, I will answer it: They wouldn't have introduced much of a delay at all. Due to the increased international travel brought about by railroads and the lack of any long wars (or really any major European wars between 1871 and 1912), passports were not required for most border crossings from the 1880s until the outbreak of World War One. The EU's institution of passport-free borders is just recreating the status quo ante 1914 for the movement of people. There would of course have been some restrictions on goods, but cargoes tend to travel on different trains from passengers, so there would not have been much inconvenience to passengers from that.

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