Hungary boasts an extensive narrow-gauge rail network, rivalled only by Switzerland and Ireland in terms of population per railway. Since 2017, government-supported projects began to spread extensively in the country.
According to G7’s compilation, Hungary has the 8th most extensive narrow-gauge railway line infrastructure in Europe, an interesting feature of the Hungarian transport system and tourism.
No aggregated data on narrow-gauge railways are kept by international and national statistical offices, so it is no longer easy to say how long they are in each country. G7 used data from the OpenStreetMap database. However, this also means that there is no common research methodology for keeping statistics.
This means that narrow-gauge railways could include tourist or forest railways, narrow-gauge tramways connecting towns or villages, or freight or mining railways. According to G7, only Switzerland and Ireland have a larger network of light railways per capita than Hungary.
G7 mentions that while Switzerland has made excellent use of its natural assets and built up an internationally renowned industry of Alpine tourist trains, Hungarian small railways are far less well known. At the same time, Ireland generally does not make use of its narrow-gauge lines in terms of tourism, but it more regularly uses them for freight.
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The narrow-gauge tourist railway line has been at the centre of Hungarian public discourse, as a tourist line has been built in Felcsút, in Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s home village.
In 2017, the government issued a decree allocating funds for the development of small railways for domestic tourism. However, little was known about the overall amount of money spent and the impact on railways passengers, as data collected by the Central Statistical Office (KSH) was not published. G7 had to launch a request for data of public interest, and they have received the data. However, it took the department a year to finally publish them.
As G7 mentions in their analysis, it was surprising to see that the state departments were so secretive. Between 2012 and 2019, domestic narrow-gauge rail passenger numbers increased by a fifth. According to the Prime Minister’s Office, in the last five years, the railways have received an investment of HUF 4.5 billion (EUR 12 million). The number of passengers carried was 1.1 percent of the number of passengers on the high-speed railways in 2021, which indicates low utilisation, and G7 has not found any data on whether foreign tourists are aware of the Hungarian narrow-gauge tourist lines.
Recently another huge Hungarian development started: BAHART is getting ready to upgrade its fleet at Lake Balaton with modern ships.