During the 19th century, a steam-driven railway network symbolized world-wide a country's definitive entry into the modern, industrialized era. As in many other lands, so in the Ottoman Empire the steam engine was considered the magic prescription for all unsolved administrative, economic and military problems.
In the Ottoman Empire's European provinces especially, the construction of railways was judged indispensable, not only to their economic development, but -- more importantly -- as a means of government control.
In 1869, Baron Maurice Hirsch, capitalist and entrepreneur on an international scale, undertook to fulfil Ottoman aspirations. Hirsch guaranteed a grandiose project to construct a network consisting of 2,500 kilometres of railway lines in the Turkish-occupied Balkans. It was rumoured that he had offered those involved a generous bribe of £40,000.
Through shrewd moves on the European stock markets, Hirsch made enormous profits, but the original plans for the network steadily shrank. For Macedonia, the final study provided for a mere 350 kilometres of track which would link Thessaloniki with Mitrovitsa, a town near the Turkish-Serbian border.