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Horse Tram at the Hungarian Railway History Park
Horse drawn tram at Magyar Vasúttörténeti Park (Hungarian Railway History Park) in Budapest.

The first railway in Hungary opened in 1846 between Pest and Waitzen (present day Vác), a distance of about 33km. 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.

Besides the main line network, there were many narrow gauge lines, typically of 760mm gauge and used in conjunction with forestry operations. A number of these have survived as tourist railways.

Budapest is 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), marking the 1000th anniversary of the traditional date for the founding of Hungary by Árpád, leader of the Magyars. This railway now forms the core of an extensive modern metro system.

While the greater part of the Hungarian main line network remained in State control until privatization in the 21st century, one remarkable independent 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.

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Photo image from the website of Magyar Vasúttörténeti Park