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A narrow gauge railway in the summer

by DoDo Sun Aug 23rd, 2009 at 04:07:16 AM EST

On Friday, I made a trip on the Szob–Márianosztra narrow-gauge railway, in Northern Hungary, a line recently rebuilt with EU funds.

The train at intermediate "watering stop" Máriakút (Mary spring), where all passengers were invited to refill their bottles from the eponymous spring. The EU funding was indicated proudly


50 km North of Budapest are the Börzsöny mountains, the remains of a long-dead volcano (see map below). The Börzsöny is a Mecca for narrow gauge railway fans: there used to be seven systems, and the rest of four are still in operation today (I showed one in Springtime Romantic Rountrip).

Once upon a time, on the Southwest of the Börzsöny, there were two systems: one to transport mostly timber west across the village of Nagybörzsöny to the normal gauge railway station of Ipolypásztó (today Pastovce in Slovakia), and the other transporting andesite from a quarry south to the normal gauge railway station in Szob.

You can still see the reloading facilities at Szob (now supplied by trucks) in the background of the narrow-gauge train approaching the new passenger station

After WWI, the river circling the Börzsöny became the border of hostile Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The forestry railway was cut back to Nagybörzsöny. So, eventually, it was re-gauged from 600 to 760 mm, and connected to the Szob system with a spectacular mountain pass line.

With the advance of trucks, the line first lost the timber transports. The mountain pass connection was disused from 1975, the rest around Nagybörzsöny survived thanks to engaged locals as tourist railway. As for the quarry, after its privatisation, its new French owner Colas switched to road transport... thus the southern line was disused in 1992. However, it was never dismantled.

Above: the rough area from Google Maps; below: the once and future joined Szob–Nagybörzsöny trunk line (map adapted from the Szob–Márianosztra railway's site)

The local governments of the villages along the line long struggled to get a reconstruction as tourist railway on track. They finally succeeded to secure EU funds, and in 2006, works started. Conforming to new standards, there were elaborate earthworks and new superstructure, signalling (see my photos and again). However, although the track was ready by late 2007, other problems prevented the start of regular service.

First, there was a line but no vehicles to run on it (see my photo). A locomotive was acquired second-hand, and two passenger cars were built anew atop the frames of two freight cars. Then, after operating for two weekends in May 2008 (see my photo), the operating permit was denied for lack of a safety permit – one that was just made a requirement by law, and one with a hefty price tag. Thus, the train started to carry regular passengers only last month.

The local governments currently try to put together the financing for the completion of the line, with the mountain pass link to the Nagybörzsöny tourist railway. For now, it terminates at Márianoszta, the village after the quarry.

Above and three photos below: the locomotive runs around the passenger car at the present end of the line in Márianosztra. You see the quarry that gave life to the line biting away the right side of the mountain on the third photo

...and then the train goes back to Szob.

After a sharp turn, the line descends from a plateau back into Brezina creek's valley

Most of the line runs at the bottom of Brezina creek's valley. Photo made shortly before the quarry

The train always has right-of-way! New light signals stop traffic on the main road in Szob. Here the new branch to the mainline passenger station diverges from the old line to the reloading facilities

The train in the new terminus at the end of the new branch to the mainline passenger station. Compare the gauges with the mainline. The mountain in the distance is already in Slovakia (you can make out the rail bridge over the border river)

On my way home, I rode something more modern... trains that I got a taste of a year ago, but became regular on this line only in recent months.

Old and new: left in the background is a BDVmot series electric multiple unit (EMU), built in the late eighties. On the right, 5342 002 and 007, are modern articulated low-floor EMUs from Bombardier's TALENT family (made in the one-time Talbot factory in Aachen), which were branched off from an order for Austrian state railways ÖBB

Long and spacious: a view all along the four cars of a TALENT

New and new: the two TALENTs are passed by 5341 041, from the rival FLIRT family of Swiss maker Stadler

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These railways, with their <25 km/h speeds, aren't too convenient for any regular passenger traffic (indeed the local governments pursued this one with the argument that it brings tourism). However, I have observed many times that local villagers have a strong emotional attachment, unlike with normal railways. Every time the train passes some locals, they'll just stand there with smiles to the ears. (Sadly I forgot to photograph one for proof.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Aug 22nd, 2009 at 06:07:44 AM EST
25km/hour is reasonable if it's that or ride a bike over the hill.  And you can get a fair amount of knitting done on the way.

I'm somewhat unconvinced of the merit of optimising travel time comnpared to travel time comfort.  That's why I choose to catch the train when travelling rather than flying.

Lovely pictures anyway, thanks for sharing.

by njh on Sat Aug 22nd, 2009 at 03:06:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In this case there's a bus in parallel. Net travel time was half an hour [we beat the timetable] over 7 km, so I am in fact thinking of going out by bike when it's sunny here again & chase the train with my camera...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Aug 22nd, 2009 at 04:44:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you for these diaries.

There is a group of us who are talking about how to get the

Rail Runner line extended from Belen down through our little burg to Las Cruces and El Paso.  As part of that we are mulling over including a narrow gauge line up to the tourist destinations up the mountain as part of our proposal.  

Your diaries have been a BIG help!

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Aug 22nd, 2009 at 11:49:39 AM EST
The RailRunner is one of the best rail transit projects in the US.  It would be exceptional to see it extended all the way down to El Paso.  I imagine the terrain would make it reasonably cheap.  Does the tech support higher speeds?  There's plenty of open space out there to blast by at top-speed.
by paving on Mon Aug 24th, 2009 at 08:12:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The US federal railroad administration limits all trains to 79mph (with the special exception of the acela).  The tech itself can probably do double that (and did 80 years ago).
by njh on Tue Aug 25th, 2009 at 03:11:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Depends on how fast you want to go. There are three issues to consider beyond curves: safety, capacity, and track quality.

  • For 300 km/h (186 mph) or above (which would be justified by the distances involved), you'd have to have smooth rails, wide curves, a larger distance between the two tracks, electrification -- in effect, a brand new line separate from freight traffic.

  • For 200 km/h (125 mph), by European standards, you still need well-laid tracks, you'd need to replace ALL level crossings with over- and under-passes, install a train control system with cab signalling, lengthen block distances; and you have to consider that capacity for freight trains would be reduced (headway increases by the time difference between the travel times of a freight train resp. a passenger train between two sidings). These may or may not be justifiable on the proposed extended RailRunner corridor.

  • For 160 km/h (100 mph), by the standards of some (not all) European countries, you'd still need to replace all level crossings. In the USA, level crossing safety is also crucial, though there, they are looking for stronger protective measures (rising barriers and such) rather than replacement. Capacity for freight trains is reduced by less.

I think 100-110 mph max is a reasonable goal if the plan is an all-stopper or an express stopping in larger places every few dozen miles. On the other hand, looking at the corridor, I'd advocate a two-phase project, with an isolated El Paso-Las Cruces corridor as first stage; that must have reasonable demand even at 79 mph max. The entire 250 mile Albuquerque-El Paso corridor at once, well, with a travel time upwards from 3.5 hours, I'd imagine that's difficult to sell -- but, I would be grateful to ATinNM if he'd tell more details about the actual proposal.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Aug 25th, 2009 at 07:27:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great diary, as usual! Thank you, Dodo.

Here in the U.S. there is a fraternity of old train enthusiasts, and they engage in a lot of trading, bargaining, and visiting of equipment from one railroad to another. We're also lucky in that there was a large degree of standardization in equipment, so one narrow gauge system is pretty much like another--almost all running on 3' gauge tracks.

So when one outfit needs a passenger car or an engine, there is often a way to get one from somebody else, and then truck the equipment to where it's needed. Since it costs about $1M to get a steam locomotive to the point where it can pass a boiler inspection, a failure can be a financial disaster if there's no backup plan for continued operation. Most of the tourist railroads therefore have their old steam engines, and then one or two recent diesels that can be used if needed.

Here's an example of this sort of thing:
http://www.narrowgauge.org/ncmap/excur5_eureka_stan.html

by asdf on Sat Aug 22nd, 2009 at 08:28:32 PM EST
... rail dairy index right.

Sunday Train: Ed Morris Duped by Libertarian HSR Hackery

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Aug 23rd, 2009 at 12:54:01 PM EST
For the milk runs?
by njh on Sun Aug 23rd, 2009 at 05:16:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What do milk runs have to do with Eric Morris' attacks on High Speed Rail?


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Aug 23rd, 2009 at 05:58:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
a joke on "the "dairy" typo, surely?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Aug 23rd, 2009 at 06:09:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Aha, I didn't see the typo, since I gnu what it was supposed to say.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Aug 23rd, 2009 at 07:02:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I thought it was quite clever :)  But I'm often the only one who appreciates my jokes...
by njh on Mon Aug 24th, 2009 at 12:25:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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