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Railroad Integration and Uneven Development on the European Periphery, 1870–1910

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 June 2021

Eduard J. Alvarez-Palau*
Faculty of Economics and Business, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain
Alfonso Díez-Minguela
Faculty of Economics, Universitat de València, València, Spain
Jordi Martí-Henneberg
Department of Geography and Sociology, Universitat de Lleida, Lleida, Spain


This study explores the relationship between railroad integration and regional development on the European periphery between 1870 and 1910, based on a regional data set including 291 spatial units. Railroad integration is proxied by railroad density, while per capita GDP is used as an indicator of economic development. The period under study is of particular relevance as it has been associated with the second wave of railroad construction in Europe and also coincides with the industrialization of most of the continent. Overall, we found that railroads had a significant and positive impact on the growth of per capita GDP across Europe. The magnitude of this relationship appears to be relatively modest, but the results obtained are robust with respect to a number of different specifications. From a geographical perspective, we found that railroads had a significantly greater influence on regions located in countries on the northern periphery of Europe than in other outlying areas. They also helped the economies of these areas to begin the process of catching up with the continent’s industrialized core. In contrast, the regions on the southern periphery showed lower levels of economic growth, with this exacerbating the preexisting divergence in economic development. The expansion of the railroad network in them was unable to homogenize the diffusion of economic development and tended to further benefit the regions that were already industrialized. In most of the cases, the capital effect was magnified, and this contributed to the consolidation of newly created nation-states.

Special Issue Article
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Social Science History Association

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