Narrow-gauge journeys

Travelling by a narrow-gauge railway, how exciting it is! It brings back all those pleasant experiences: an excursion in a forest or a journey on a special children’s railway, or pioneers’ railway for the older ones. This week, we give you a virtual ticket to Hungary’s different light trains. All aboard!

Children’s Railway of Széchenyi Hill

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The most famous narrow-gauge railway is the children’s railway in the Buda Hills. It travels between Hűvösvölgy and Széchenyi Hill – reaching several favourite tourist destinations like János Hill, Csillebérc and Normafa. Its construction started in the spring of 1948 and the section between Széchenyi Hill and Virágvölgy was already launched in that summer; the latter’s name was ‘Előre’ (Forward). Thus, the former pioneers’ railway (now children’s railway) celebrates its 70th anniversary this summer. The aim of building a narrow-gauge railway was the accessibility of the Pioneer City of Csillebérc – that was created in 1948, as a camp – and to let children put forth their skills as railway employees. Children did the main tasks as traffic controllers, train guards and ticket clerks. The whole line (11.2 km) was inaugurated on 20 August 1950. At the terminal station of Hűvösvölgy, an open-air escalator worked from 1956 until 1973 – as the prototype of the escalators in the Budapest underground later.

We have to note for the sake of nostalgia that the issue 1978. 27/6 of the children’s magazine ‘Kisdobos’ uploaded to MaNDA’s database commemorates the 30th anniversary of the pioneers’ railway of Budapest – with Endre Gyárfás’ poem, in which every stop got its own stanza.

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The railway track grew old during 40 years: it was restored completely from 1989 to 1990. The change of regime brought about another change: the pioneers’ railway became the children’s railway. Its operation was taken over by the Hungarian State Railways (MÁV), some station names were changed (Előre became Virágvölgy, Ságvári-liget became Szépjuhászné) and the children’s red ties turned into blue. The children’s railway is still running, so if you want to try it or have some nostalgia in the forests, do not hesitate! A good program on 19 August every year is the night achievement tour of 20 kilometres from Hűvösvölgy to Széchenyi Hill, and you can cover the return journey by train.

Zsuzsi Forest Narrow-Gauge Railway of Debrecen

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We have mentioned forest railways, so let’s have a look at the narrow-gauge forest railways that net the whole area of the country. Due to reasons of extent, we cannot mention all of them. Let’s start with ‘Zsuzsi’, the oldest and still active narrow-gauge railway. Traffic was launched between Debrecen and Nyírmártonfalva on Zsuzsi in 1882 – they transported wood in the beginning; the passenger transport started besides freight transport as of 1923. And why is it Zsuzsi? Simply because it was named after one of its first steam engines. The line that ran 49 km until Nyírbéltelek in its heyday was whittled down by the so-called transport-political concept. A part of the railway was removed in 1977, separating the rural population from the city of Debrecen. The remaining section of 16.6 km was given to the town as a pioneers’ railway. After the change of regime, it survived another liquidation attempt under the name ‘Debreceni Erdei Kisvasút’ (Forest Railway of Debrecen), and nowadays it is a protected cultural heritage. It was perpetuated in the pop culture with a classical song as well (‘Megy a Zsuzsi vonat, csattognak a kerekek’).

The Forestry Railway of Királyrét

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Let’s continue with the Forestry Railway of Királyrét in the Börzsöny Mountains, which was constructed in 1893 for carrying wood originally, and later for stone. The steam locomotive of the railway was called Mária, because it was popular to give girl’s names to locomotives. In the beginning, it ran between Kismaros – Szokolya – Királyrét stations, until the Adolf Well above Királyrét. During the 1910s, the railway was extended with different dinky lines, for example the MÁV transfer of Nógrádverőce. Passenger transport began in 1954, though residents of Királyrét had often been transported before that too, besides the freight. By the forties, stone mines were emptied and there was not any wood to exploit either by the seventies. The above-mentioned transport concept designated the line a pioneers’ railway according to the well-tried custom. Thus, a large reconstruction started in the seventies, and only the main line remained. Bus transport for the locals was solved in the nineties, thus the light train has been carrying only tourists since 1992. As of 2003, the train has been running with a nostalgia steam locomotive Morgó (Grumpy) as well. If you go to Királyrét by train, do not miss out the neighbouring 750-metre-long handcar track!

Anyway, there are a lot of narrow-gauge railways going through the forests of the Börzsöny Mountains: several sections of the Trans-Börzsöny narrow-gauge railway on the Szob-Márianosztra-Nagyirtás line and the Nagybörzsöny line, or the Forest Museum Railway of Kemence operated by volunteers uniquely. Without counting the romantic feeling of the old, forgotten ruined railways that cross the mountain besides hiking paths.

Spectacles of funfairs

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Light trains also operate as spectacles of funfairs and zoos. For example, the funfair railway of Debrecen, which was launched in 1960 together with Ludas Matyi Funfair. At that time, it was a pioneers’ railway with children employees and with only a 1100-metre long railway. The zoo and the funfair, including the light train, operate under the name Nagyerdei Kultúrpark (Culture Park of Nagyerdő) nowadays.

The story of the Mecsek narrow-gauge railway of Pécs is similar. The zoo was opened in 1960, the funfair opened a year later and the narrow-gauge railway transport started between them in 1962. The line is the shortest still operating narrow-gauge railway of Hungary with only 570 metres. A transport historical curiosity is the asymmetrical C-50 locomotives that operate in both funfairs of Debrecen and Pécs.

The narrow-gauge railway of Balaton

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The C-50 locomotive of Pécs was sent from the agricultural railway of Balatonfenyves. The construction of the railway of Balatonfenyves started in 1950, on the marshy area of Nagyberek (see: Nagyberek and Fehérvíz Marsh Nature Reserve) in order to transport turves, lime mud and manure. Some years later, passenger transport began here too. Inhabitants of farms were carried into the town, and the thermal medicinal water of Csisztapuszta sprang that time, and it became a beloved holiday destination accessible by the narrow-gauge railway.

We could list even more narrow-gauge railways in Hungary, but now it is time to end this week’s story. If you took a liking to go on a pleasant journey on a light train, the ideal time is a warm August day, when heat is more tolerable on a light train running under the cool leaves.

TEJ

Translated by Zita Aknai

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