Railway transport was an outstanding monument to industrialisation. For the first time travelling was made fast and comfortable. For industry it connected sources of raw materials to industrial centres.
The first successful project to build a railway locomotive was in the UK in 1811. In the following decades, railways spread across Europe and the Arab and Ottoman world. The development of steel production technology in the 19th century not only helped in manufacturing viable steel rails but also enabled engineers to construct much larger bridges. Steel’s high tensile strength made both rails and bridges safer and more durable. Railways eased contacts between Europe and the Arab and Ottoman world and their construction influenced not only trade and travel, but also social life. Railways were either a symbol of industrialisation or, especially in the Arab and Ottoman world, an expression of political, administrative, military and fiscal reforms, as well as an attempt to safeguard independence from the European presence by introducing local industry and infrastructure. At the same time, the railways built by European firms were an innovation promoted autonomously and a means of strategic control as part of the colonial infrastructure.