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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