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History of Transport

Prepared on the basis of the monograph of the history master Laimonas Gryva

When the Council of Lithuania declared (on 16 February 1918) the re-establishment of independence, from the very first days the idea was fostered about the creation of transport system as one of the most important sectors of economy of an independent country.

On 4 November 1918 the Presidium of the Council of Lithuania commissioned prof. Augustinas Voldemaras to form the Cabinet of Ministers the composition of which was approved on 11 November. Three ministers were not assignedin it due to different disagreements: the ministers of national defence, public works and nutrition, and transport. Under such circumstances the Minister of Finance Martynas Ycas agreed to serveas the Acting Minister of Transport and Communications by, at the same time creating the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

In 1918 November 14 M. Ycas founded the Council of the Ministry of Transport and Communications the members of which became engineers J. Ciurlys, B. Tamoshevicius, J. Shimoliunas and A. Rachlinas-Rumiancevas. On the basis of the of the Order No. 1 of December 1918 of the Minister of Transport and Communications those persons were commissioned to manage all the affairs related to railway and other transportation activities.

It was already projected for from the very beginning that the Ministry of Transport and Communications would manage the activities of railway, fleet, commercial aviation, land transport, and post, telephone and telegraph sectors. The motorways of rather poor condition and scarce transportation means were inherited by the Ministry from the former tsarist empire and German occupation authority.

Therefore, one of the principal tasks from the very beginning was to indicate the guidelines of the activities all the institutions and organizations subordinate to the Ministry focussed on the creation of transport system of the independent Lithuania.

After the occupation of Lithuania by the Soviet army on 15 June 1940 the Soviet authorities started to plane the liquidation of the Ministry of Transport and Communications. The Ministry had been liquidated from 16 September 1940 and the institutions subordinate to it had been attributed to different ministries and establishments of the USSR.

When Lithuania regained its independence the new Government was formed on 22 March 1990, and the Ministry of Transport and Communications was re-established as well. From the very first days of its activities the most important tasks of the Ministry included taking over of the transport sector from the subordination of all-union ministries, creation of new transport strategy and legal system, integration of the Lithuanian transport sector into the European transport network.

It is recorded in historical sources that already in the 13th century were existed an important road connecting the state of Teutonic Order and Riga which ran along the Baltic Sea coast crossing Curonian Spit, and such towns as Klaipeda, Palanga, and Liepoja. As many as about 100 Lithuanian roads were mentioned in the messages of the Order scouts of the period from 1381 to 1402.

Charges and different duties were levied for the crossing of a certain territory, bridges, or rivers, and such additional expenses increased transportation expenses and cost of goods.

In the 15th and 16th centuries the roads connected Vilnius and Kaunas with Danzig, Konigsberg, Grodno, Krakow and other cities. In the 17th and 18th centuries two important roads were built from Kaunas: one to Riga (crossing Kedainiai and Siauliai), and another to the direction of Warsaw (along the left bank of the river Nemunas). The charges for travelling by roads, monitoring and maintenance works of the inland roads were regulated by the Statute (code of laws) of the Great Duchyof Lithuania.

At that time passengers and goods were carried by private businessmen or postal stations. Normally the trip from Vilnius to Kaunas took more than 24 hours. The first international highway across Lithuania was built during the period from 1830 to 1835. This was the St. Petersburg-Warsaw highway crossing the towns of Zarasai, Ukmerge, Kaunas, Suvalkai. The second important highway Riga-Konigsberg crossing such towns as Joniskis, Siauliai, Taurage was built in the period from 1836 to 1858. 

The first automobile appeared in Lithuania in 1896. It was ‘Panhard Levasseur’, registered by the Russian Ministry of Transport in 1896. Due to the shortage of funds, only 74 km of new highways were built in the period from 1930 to 1931 by the independent Lithuanian State. 

The so-called Zemaiciai highway of the total 193 km length (Kaunas-Raseiniai-Rietavas-Garg?dai) was built in the period from 1934 to 1938, and connected the interim Lithuanian capital Kaunas with the Lithuanian Baltic Sea coast. The so called Aukstaiciai highway of the total 170 km length, starting from Zemaiciai highway near the settlement of Babtai and reaching Birzai via Kedainiai, Panevezys, Pasvalys, was built in the period from 1937 to 1940.

The construction of the first Lithuanian high-speed motorway Vilnius-Kaunas was completed in 1970.

The first railways in Lithuania were drivenin the period from 1859 to 1861. This was St. Petersburg-Warsaw line crossing towns as Ignalina, Vilnius, Lentvaris, and Varena with the branch through Kaunas to Kybartai. The first train on an inauguration trip arrived from Daugpilis to Vilnius on 17 September, 1860. The trip from Petersburg to Vilnius used to take nearly 19 hours, and from Vilnius to Kaunas 2 hours and 33 minutes.

In the period from 1871 to 1874 the railway line Liepoja-Romny was built crossing such the towns of Mazeikiai, Radviliskis, Kaisiadorys, Naujoji Vilnia. The line was mainly used for the carriage of grain from Ukraine to the port of Liepoja.

After the re-establishment of independence in 1918, the independent Republic of Lithuania rented its first steam locomotives and coaches from Germany. However, they  were rather obsolete. During rather frequent stops of the train the passengers would help the train driver to collect fire-wood.

The situation changed very soon – new modern coaches, steam locomotives, diesel railcars were bought. In 1921 a train from Kaunas to Siauliai used to arrive in 5 h, while in 1937 this time shortened to 2 h 19 min. While in 1920 the maximum train speed was only 40 km/h, at the end of the fourth decade a train could reach the speed of 95 km/h. In 1939 the broad gauge standardrolling-stock of Lithuania consisted of 172 steam locomotives, 219 coaches, 53 luggage and postal cars, 3760 freight wagons, and 13 railcars.

When the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania in 1940, a large-scale programme of changing the gauge standard into the Soviet gauge standard (from 1435 mm to 1524 mm) started. After the war the main railway lines were reconstructed, new railway stations’ buildings were built in Kaunas, Kaisiadorys, Kretinga, and other towns, the station of Vilnius was reconstructed, the areas of intensive traffic were fitted up with two track sections.

In 1975 the track Vilnius-Kaunas was electrified, later the electrificationof the tracks Lentvaris-Trakai and Vilnius-Naujoji Vilnia was carried out. The last steam locomotive stopped its operation on Lithuanian railways in 1979.

After Lithuania regained its independence in 1990, 22 km long track of European standard gauge (1435 mm) from Sestokai to the Lithuanian border with Poland became very important. This track became ‘a window to Europe’ for Lithuanian railways.

In the third and the fourth decades of the last century the planes of the USSR-German company ‘Deruluft’ and later became ‘Lufthansa’, used to land in the Aleksotas airport in Kaunas. The planes flew by the routes Konigsberg-Moscow, Berlin-Moscow, and Konigsberg-Leningrad.

In 1938 the Air Communications Inspection of the Ministry of Transport and Communications ordered in England two five-seat planes ‘Percival Q 6’. The first air line of the Lithuanian civil aviation was opened on 5 September with two flights made to Palanga.

Two planes made regular flights to Palanga until 17 September 1938. Regular flights by the route Kaunas-Palanga were renewed in 1939. 216 flights were made during the years 1938 and 1939, during which 764 passengers, 3,546 kg of luggage, and 3,476 kg of mail parcels were carried.

The plane ‘Lituanica’ took off at 6:24 AM (New York summer time) from the New York Floyd Bennett Airport on 15 July 1933 with two Lithuanian pilots on board, Steponas Darius and Stasys Girenas, who crossed the Atlantic and at 0:36 (Berlin time) on 17 July perished in the vicinity of Soldin, Germany (at present the territory of Poland). They covered 6411 kilometres in 37 hours 11 minutes up to the place of catastrophe. S. Darius and S. Girenas achieved the second best world result by the flight distance and the fourth best result by the time-span spent in the air. 

During the years 1944-1990 the Lithuanian air transport was subordinate to the Ministry of Civil Aviation of the USSR. In accordance with the policy of the ministry, flights to foreign countries were forbidden, however, in the eighties the aircraft from the airports of Vilnius, Kaunas, Siauliai, and Palanga flew to more than 40 cities of different regions of the USSR. At this time the aircraft fleet of the Lithuanian Civil Aviation Directorate consisted of jet planes TU-134, JAK-42, JAK-40, turbo propeller aircrafts AN-24 and AN-26, propeller aircrafts AN-2 and helicopters KA-26.

In 1990, state aviation enterprises ‘Lietuvos avialinijos’ (Lithuanian airlines) and ‘Lietuva’ (Air Lithuania) founded in 1991. First western  aircraft Boeing 737-200 with 105 seating capacity leased by the company ‘Lietuvos avialinijos’ from the Irish company GPA landed in Vilnius in December 1991. Another important step of the Lithuanian air companies was their accession to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which meant the acknowledgement at international level and granted the right to sell tickets to international flights operated by any air company of the world.

All water industry was concentrated on the Baltic sea cost.

The importance of the port increased significantly in the second part of the 16th century – grain, flax, hemp, linseed, leather were exported from here to Sweden, Denmark, Holland, and Germany.

The port of Dane was used predominantly till the middle of the 18th century. In the second part of the 18th century the export of new goods (which were shipped even to England), timber and woodenware in particular, were of utmost importance to the development of maritime trade activities in Klaipeda. Nearly 400 vessels visited the port in 1768.

At the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century the construction of the southern jetty was underway. The northern jetty was built consisting of two parts: the first part was the 940 meter length quay reinforced with stones, and the second part was 2.5 meter wide and 2 meter height (above water level) jetty projected into the sea by 460 meters. The southern jetty was extended several times. In 1855-1872 the Winter Harbour was built.

In order to ensure safe navigation in darkness, the lighthouse of Klaipeda was lighted up on 1 September 1796. In 1819 the lighthouse was heightened and a new system of flashlights was installed. Since then the light of the beacon was seen from the sea at the distance of more than 30 kilometres.

When Klaipeda region was retrieved after the uprising of 1923, the activities of the main port of Lithuania intensified significantly. While in 1923 only 652 vessels entered the port and 667 vessels left it, after 15 years in 1938, 1,544 vessels entered the port and 1,563 vessels left it. During the period from 1923 to 1939 the port was visited by the vessels from 47 foreign countries. The cargo volumes also grew continuously: 438,000 tons of cargo were brought in and 156,000 tons were brought out in 1928, while 1,112,839 tons of cargo were brought in and 420,444 tons of cargo were brought out in 1938. 80 percent of country‘s export and 70 percent of its import fell on Klaipeda port.

In order to speed-up the stevedoring operations 4 new portal (self propelled) cranes were procured, and the old crane with lifting capacity of 35 tones was equipped with new electric motor, several new warehouses were built beside the port quays. The biggest warehouse of the total area of 32,000 m2 belonged to the company ‘Lietukis’.

After the World War II the port of Klaipeda was rebuilt. The number of foreign vessels visiting Klaipeda was also increasing continuously: only 7 vessels visited the port in 1951, while in 1964 the number of foreign vessels reached 860. The first Soviet Union coal sorting and handling facilities were built in the port of Klaipeda where all coal sorting and handling processes were mechanized and automated. The first tanker with fuel oil left the port in November 1959.

International sea ferry Klaipeda-Mukran started to operate in 1986. Identical sea ferry terminal was erected on the Rugen island, the territory of the former German Democratic Republic. Similar port equipment was installed at both ports enabling very fast boarding of more than 100 wagon train onto the ship. The Lithuanian Shipping Company founded in 1969 already had 40 vessels in its disposition in 1982 carrying cargo to the most distant places of the world.

Regular exchange of information with foreign countries started in 1562 when the postal line Vilnius-Krakow-Vienna-Venice was opened. Correspondence from Lithuania reached many towns of Western Europe via Vienna. In 1671 the postal tax was imposed for the towns and townships of the Great Duchy of Lithuania.

Several postal routes crossed Lithuania in the first half of the 19th century. The most important one was Petersburg-Warsaw (crossing the towns of Vydžiai, Švenčionys, Pabradė, Nemenčinė, Vilnius, Šalčininkai). Other routes such as Vilnius-Kaunas, Warsaw-Riga, Konigsberg-Riga, Kaunas-Tilžė, and Šiauliai-Panevėžys played an important role too. Later on, the individual towns of districts were also connected by the postal roads.

All postal offices of Lithuania were closed during the World War I, when Lithuanian territory was occupied by the Germans. The Lithuanian people was allowed to use the German post only from 15 January 1916 but the letters were to be written only in German. 

During the period of independent Lithuania the development of the Lithuanian post was marked by the following important milestones: on 16 November 1918 the Minister of Transport of the Republic of Lithuania M. Yčas signed the Resolution founding the Lithuanian Post Board. The first Lithuanian postage stamps were issued on 27 December 1918. Lithuania joined the Universal Postal Union (UPU) on 1 January 1922. 126 post-offices and 40 postal agencies were operating in Lithuania at that time.

On 4 December the International Bureau of the Universal Postal Union announced that with the integration of Lithuania into the USSR the Lithuanian membership in this organization has been cancelled. On 16 February 1941 all postage stamps, envelopes, and postcards were withdrawn from the circulation, and the USSR postal tariffs were approved.

During the World War II the Lithuanian communications system was destroyed, transport and rail carriage system stopped functioning. After the World War II the operations of the Lithuanian communications sector and its development were completely dependent on Moscow.

A new period of re-establishment and development of the Lithuanian Post started from 1990. The first series of the postage stamps of the independent Lithuania under the title ‘Angel’ was put into circulation on 7 October. The State Enterprise ‘Pašto ženklas’ (‘Postage Stamp’) of the Ministry of Transport and Communications of Lithuania was founded.

On 17 December it was decided to reorganize the management structure of the Lithuanian communications sector – to separate the postal services from the electric communication services by creating the State Enterprise ‘Lietuvos paštas’ (‘Lithuanian Post’) and the State Enterprise ‘Lietuvos telekomas’ (‘Lithuanian Telecom’).

Telephone reached Lithuania after 6 years of the telephone invention – the first telephone line Kretinga-Plungė-Rietavas was installed among the manors of the duke Oginskis and the counts Tiškevičius and Zubovas in 1882.

The first phone exchanges were built in Klaipėda belonging to Germany at that time (in 1888; 23 subscribers), Vilnius (in 1896; 150 subscribers), and Kaunas (in 1904; 110 subscribers). The phone lines were installed in the districts of Panevėžys, Raseiniai, Šiauliai, Tešiai, and Zarasai before the World War I and during it, but most of them were destroyed or even annihilated by the retreating Kaiser army.

Therefore, the development of the phone network was one of the most important tasks of the independent Lithuanian State in 1918. In 1923 all centres of the districts already had the phone exchanges and could communicate with larger towns by direct lines. 508 phone exchanges (excluding the land of Vilnius) were operating in Lithuania in 1937.

25786 phone subscribers were registered in Lithuania in 1939.

The entire network of telecommunications was destroyed by the two waves of the World War II having overwhelmed Lithuania: the equipment was plundered and the main communications lines were destroyed. During the following ten years (1944-1954) the Lithuanian communications engineers managed to rebuild all equipment of the lines devastated during the war, and the operational phone communication between all district centres and the capital Vilnius was continuously functioning from that time.

A large-scale replacement of the technologies of the existing phone exchanges by automatic switching systems started in 1960. The number of phone subscribers increased significantly.

The first automatic long-distance phone exchange in the Baltic republics connecting Vilnius and Kaunas started to operate in 1963.

In 1992 automatic phone communication with the countries of Western Europe and Northern America via the switching exchange “Lintel” installed in Kaunas started to operate.

After the re-establishment of Lithuanian independence in 1990, the possibilities emerged to develop the communications network based on the newest communications technologies. The era of optical fibre cables started in 1992 when the first optical fibre cable main line was built between Kaunas and Vilnius. Especially rapid modernization of all Lithuanian telecommunications systems started when the State Enterprise ‘Lietuvos telekomas’ was founded in 1992.

The first radio station that started to broadcast (on 12 August 1926) was the radio station of Kaunas (Žaliakalnis). This was the first time when radio broadcastings were transmitted in Lithuania. This date is considered to be the birth date of the Lithuanian radiophony. The programme of the first radio broadcastings consistedof news, meteorological information and different concerts (the broadcasts were carried out for 1,5 hour period per day in 1926).

The first television broadcast was made on 30 April 1957 from the radio and television station of Vilnius. This was the beginning of the establishment and development period of the Lithuanian radio and television system.

Last updated: 02-12-2019