A Realistic Future for Narrow Gauge Railways in Hungary

A Realistic Future for Narrow Gauge Railways in Hungary


Dóra BACHMANN, Transinvest- Budapest Ltd., Csaba OROSZ, PhD, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Department of Highway and Railway Engineering


Hungary has 29 narrow guage railway lines with a total length of 503 km. The Co-ordination Centre for Transport ordered a study concerning that topic. Our team has studied the present situation in the field of regulation, funding and investment.


Narrow Gauge Railways are lovely and popular in Hungary as well. However, realistic development, is not a key topic. As a good exception the Hungarian Co-ordination Centre for Transport [“KKK”] ordered a study concerning the topic. Our team has studied the 2014-2015 fact sheets. Characteristics of rail tracks, of rail vehicles of sustainable investments; funding issues, problems of rigid regulation. We have also analysed passenger demand, revenues and costs. We had 29 separate narrow gauge railway lines and companies in Hungary with a total length of some 500 kms. [24 lines - 224 kms were in in operation in 2014. Traffic was suspended at 5 lines with 276 kms!] The main function of these “light railways” is green tourism. Freight transport - timber forwarding produces the main revenue sources at two state owned forestry railway lines. The 24 railway lines and companies have some 1,3 million passengers annually [~3800 passengers/day, 5000 to 380000 passengers per year per company.]

As a result of our work we specified some reliable fact sheets. Two companies have a balance of revenues and costs. 22 companies are in red, they produce considerable losses each year. Seven – twelve railway companies have realistic plans for the future. These companies may keep and develop their role. Other firms will be forced to restrict, reduce or stop there activities. The old rolling stocks, the out of date tracks need renovation and proper maintenance. Usually this is financially impossible. The decisions should be made by the companies and by the regions concerned. However there is a danger that central political influence will decide about the future existence of such railway lines.

Main problems we outlined:
• Infrastructure deteriorated, aging vehicle fleet, passenger comfort is inadequate;
• High fixed costs, cross-financed by the owner and/or the state;
• Forestries are state-owned, but for-profit organizations. Depending on the owner’s decision the vision of narrow railways may change;
• Financial sources with different ownership background are not equally accessible;
• The regulation of railways is dedicated for international, high-performance interoperable networks.
Challenges we found:
• Financial background of operation cannot be planned;
• Missing intermodal connections;
• Passenger transport performance are various at different railway companies (5000 to 380000 per company);
• Less competitive, not sufficiently attractive for commuter traffic.
Future potential in:
• Complex management of reconstruction and development (infrastructure + rolling stock);
• They are essential for approach to nature conservation areas;
• Tourist potential is not fully utilized;
• Regional development and touristic plans can be easily adapted;
• Some railway lines are part of the national cultural heritage, some revenues can be given from educational and museum funds.

The final paper will show the geographical locations, the technical and financial data concerning the 24 railway lines that are in operation. Some international comparison will be shown as well.


Association for European Transport