Chapters from the tram history of Budapest
Nowadays, you cannot imagine Budapest without trams, but it used to be differently. In fact, the tram network of the capital city was larger, but the undergrounds became the favourite by the seventies, thus they started thinning the tram network. Besides Hungary, you could see this tendency in Western Europe as well. This week, we are going to look into the tram transport of Budapest, and interlaced company establishments and well-known tram lines will follow our way.
From the horse-car to the trial tram
The traffic of omnibuses (1832-1929) culminated at the turn of the centuries. The lines connected the entertaining objects of the inner city predominantly. It was easy to stop an approaching omnibus that came in a modest trot when you left the theatre. The horse-car service started running as of 1866, but it became old-fashioned obviously by the 1880s. Just think about it, not only passengers had needs, but so did horses: horse dung lay everywhere.
In spite of the obvious nuisances, the monopoly of the Budapesti Közúti Vaspálya Társaság (Road Railway Company of Budapest) that was formed by the merger of omnibus companies remained for a long time. However, the machine-drawn railway was not included in the monopoly of the company. Later, after Buda and Pest was united, the development of public transport was even more essential.
The idea and design of a tramway that crosses the capital city is connected to Mór Balázs and the Siemens & Halske Company. Transport engineer Mór Balázs, who was the founding general manager of the Budapesti Városi Villamos Vasút (City Tram Railway of Budapest), became renowned as the creator of the tram transport of Budapest. The first stage of the creation of a tramway was that Balázs – with the professional assistance of the Siemens & Halske – submitted a tender for constructing an electric road tramway. The realisation of the conduit current passage of the “trial tram” was approved by Gábor Baross in October 1887. Keeping the really short deadline of two months, the first tram of Budapest was launched with one engine-car and a tow-car on 28 November 1887.
The non-concealed aim of the trial tram was to persuade decision-makers: the tram transport is the solution of the transport problems of Budapest.
The persuasion proved to be successful; passengers, and even horses got used to this new means of transport soon. The tram remained conduit current powered, because the then aldermen would not have welcomed wires in the capital city.
The tramway line from Egyetem Square to Köztemető Road was inaugurated on 30 July in 1889. This section already had normal track. Its curiosity was that the track had to be able to serve a steam locomotive as well, in case of a power blackout.
The local railway started to operate at the same time as the tram did, towards Dunaharaszti, Ráckeve, Gödöllő and Szentendre. Why were not a tramway constructed on Andrássy Road? Simply because the lords, who lived in the palaces of the avenue, were not fond of rattling streetcars. Mór Balázs had another idea: to build an underground or shallow subway, thus the avenue did not remain without a railway.
What was it like travelling by a tram? The interior of tram-cars received wooden panels, and the cleanness was also important, thus the warning “No smoking and spitting!” was engraved into the bearing bars. Many of you might know that people “just” chewed tobacco in the old times, which was an activity that required spitting regularly. In the fifties, traffic security posters warned passengers – that speaks from sound records nowadays – to the importance of hand-hold and how to get off.
People, who travel by public transport, know that one of the most important aspects is the correct passenger information system, and it was not differently at the dawn of the 20th century either.
In omnibuses, direction signs and direction flags were placed above windows. In trams, disks with round coloured graphics were put above windows. The half-white, half-blue and blue-checked graphics meant the line to Óbuda, while the line on the boulevard was full red, red and blue and red-green checked. As the number of lines increased, it turned out that the disk system is too difficult. Although the number system was introduced only after 1910, transport is unimaginable without it now. The lines of BKVT received odd numbers; those of the BVVV received even numbers. Number 13 was omitted.
As of 1891, BVVV kept on constructing new tracks. BKVT realised that they would fall behind the competition this way, so they also started electrifications. By the beginning of the 20th century, seven tramway companies rivalled for the passengers’ favours.
Due to political and economic reasons, the companies merged in 1918. The United City Railways of Budapest (BEVV) introduced a uniform fare system. After the WW I in 1923, Budapest purchased and took control over the transport company, thus the Budapesti Székesfővárosi Közlekedési Rt. (“beszkárt”) was established. The company operated until 1949 and made significant network developments. In 1949, the company was chopped, and the tram transport was taken over by FVKV first, then FVV, and finally by Fővárosi Villamos Vasút (Metropolitan Tramway). BKV (Budapest Transport Company) was established in 1968, and it has been providing the transport services of Budapest with smaller and bigger changes since then.
The number 1 tram used to serve the population as a horse-car. This line was opened in 1866 from Széna Square (today’s Kálvin Square) to Újpest. In 1911, it ran on a modified route as line 1, from Thököly Road to the City Park (Városliget). It was closed in the middle of the twenties and was reopened only in 1932. It would be too long to list the changes of its time schedule. Between 1950 and 1993, buses ran on the route of the present tram line 1. The construction of the tramway started in 1982, and its importance is showed well by the fact that János Kádár was its first passenger. The so-called rapid tram was launched between Bécsi Road – Árpád Bridge – Lehel Road on 6 November in 1984. That time, it became known that the line would reach South-Buda, through the Lágymányosi Bridge that already existed in plans. By 2013, the restoration of the tramway could not be postponed further, because speed limits of 5-10 km/h were frequent on the track, which increased the journey time significantly. The first phase of the renovation started between Bécsi Road and Lehel Street on 28 September 2013. The reconstruction of the terminal station at Közvágóhíd started on 24 January 2014. The tram ran only between Árpád Bridge and Mester Street, while replacement buses (number 201V) brought passengers between Közvágóhíd and Ferencváros Railway Station. On 3 March, BKK announced the tramway tender winner: the Spanish CAF company. Trams arrived in 2015-16, and ran on the line 1 with 56-metre-long trains, which are two metres longer than the Combino trains. The tramline 1 is the second-busiest tramway in Budapest, after the line on the Grand Boulevard.
The tramline 2, constant character of brochures, is actually the “cover girl” of the metropolitan transport. Before WW II, it ran between Keleti (Eastern) Railway Terminal and Dózsa György Road tunnel. It was constructed between Népszínház Street and Király Street by BVV in 1911. Those who know the city centre well know that the central streets are rather narrow, and they were similar that time too. The rails of the two directions did not have enough space next to one another, thus trams went back to the terminal station next to the Rókus Hospital on an alternative track in Akácfa Street – Klauzál Street. The line was extended to the Eastern Railway Terminal in September 1912, and then, it was constructed on the other end of the line to Rudolf trónörökös Square (today’s Jászai Mari Square). There were problems with its exploitage; it would have needed large scale developments, but it could not be done. In 1942, the section between Király Street and Rókus Hospital was closed and the whole line was moved to the bank of the Danube (Jászai Mari Square – Eskü Square). Since that time, it has been the present tramline 2. This tramway section is definitely one of the most beautiful sections in the city, and was often used as a trial track. The new type UV trains of Ganz were introduced there in 1956. The abbreviation UV means: type U, and the letter V is for remote control, because two trams could be controlled from one driver’s cabin.
The “négyeshatos” (4-6) running on the Grand Boulevard is a bit like Budapest: it never sleeps, its passengers are various and sometimes the atmosphere goes dramatic. It is sure that it cannot be avoided, just like its history. As the routes of the lines 4 and 6 are almost identical, we are looking at the line 6 in details. Its story began with the trial track between Nyugati (Western) Railway Terminal and Király Street. The lobby against the horse-car proved to be successful, because the former trial line was replaced with a normal track as of 6 March in 1890. This was extended to today’s Blaha Lujza Square later. The tramway reached Boráros Square on 5 June in 1892. There was no possibility for further extensions on the Boulevard, because the section of Szent István Boulevard was operated by the rival company BKVT, and the Petőfi Bridge that leads to Buda was opened just fifty years later. After introducing the relation numbering system, the line of the Grand Boulevard received number 6. The line survived even the World War and became the insert line of number 66 tram later. The route of line 6 had to be modified several times due to the WW II. The Margaret Bridge and the Boulevard were reconstructed between 20 March and 30 September in 1978, thus the terminal station was on the Szent István Boulevard during that time. That year, they started to exchange the UV trains to the so-called “Goliath” trains, but the most interesting change for us was the last one. The first two Siemens Combino Supra trams were launched on 1 July 2006, and they have been serving passengers indefatigably since then.
Translated by Zita Aknai
Számos villamos: Legát Tibor - Nagy Zsolt Levente - Zsigmond Gábor, Jószöveg Műhely Kiadó, 2010.