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The first railway in Hungary opened in 1846, between Pest and Vác. Hungary was at that time part of the Austrian Empire and this was naturally a major influence on railway development, including the choice of standard gauge (1435mm) for main line railway construction.

While the greater part of the Hungarian main line network has always remained in State control, one remarkable private railway (GySEV) has survived wars, the breakup of Empire, and a period of Soviet domination to become a significant player in today’s competitive international freight market.

Budapest is also the home of the oldest underground city railway in continental Europe. The first section opened in 1896, pre-dating the Paris Métro by 4 years. It was known as Millenniumi Földalatti Vasút (the Millennium Underground Railway), 1896 being the 1000th anniversary of the supposed founding of Hungary by Árpád, leader of the Magyars. This line now forms the core of an extensive modern metro system.

The former state railway company MÁV has been split into a number of publicly owned companies, which retain control of most of the national infrastructure and the majority of passenger train services. A number of independent freight operators have emerged since privatisation.

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Flag image from CIA World Factbook