Railway Development of Old
“Lay those tracks, oh, lay those rails!
By the dozen, by the hundred!
Let them run across this planet
Like human flesh is lain with veins.”
In addition to steam engines, diesel and power operated vehicles were also used for traction in the early 20th century, and although the ratios have shifted sometimes due to economic trends or constraints, railways have remained, with expectations of a secure future. Transportation by rail, just as everything else in transport, is passing through an age of change.
Recalling the great periods of railway development in Hungary is worth the effort as the sight of magic engines sends our minds wondering about the present-day competitiveness of this Hungarian sector along with its countless branches.
The first part of the 19th century revolutionised land transport. In 1813, a British engineer, William Hadley discovered that the grip emanating from the weight of a locomotive is sufficient to produce the traction for propulsion. George Stephenson’s subsequent technical solution was based on this principle. He founded the world’s first locomotive plant in England in 1824, which was followed by the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway for steam traction on 15 September 1830.
A call for railway and canal construction was published in Hungary, based on an act proclaimed in 1836, and traffic started along the tracks of the Hungarian Central Railway Company between Pest and Vác on 15 July 1846.
Traction by horses prevailed across the whole continent during the first three decades of the 19th century. The first suspended railway in Hungary was also horse-drawn: it opened on 20 August 1827 and connected Hatvani (now Lajos Kossuth) Street with Kőbánya, along tracks spanning 2.5 km. Poles supported beams at the height of about 3 metres overhead with wheels rolling along a pair of rails above. Baskets for goods to be transported were hung with ropes on both sides of the beams. It was only used for cargo, no passengers were allowed on. The plans had envisaged an extension to Szolnok, but even the initial section was closed down because of the unfavourable public reception.
The initial railway act of 1836 (Act XXV) listed plans for 13 railway lines. The first licence to construct railways was finally awarded to Baron Sina Shőrerer, engineer, on 26 February 1836.
The first Hungarian language technical weekly, Hétilapok appeared in Eger on 7 July 1838; its issue dated 25 August featured an illustrated report covering “steam and wagons” with manufacturing details.
The railway between Pest and Vác was the eleventh to open in Europe and trains needed 59 minutes to complete the 33.6 km journey. The first locomotives were procured from Belgium. The tracks were standard gauge (1435 mm). The wagons had four axles with bogies. The Pest–Szolnok line opened on 1 September 1847. During the 1848 revolution Hungary claimed 243 km of railways.
Count István Széchenyi (1791–1860) in his capacity as Minister for Transport and Public Works developed a large scale plan for railways implemented in merit by Gábor Baross (1848–1892), Minister of Public Works and Transportation and Government Secretary Ernő Hollán (1824–1900), whose transport policy after the Compromise of 1867 strengthened the central role of Budapest in railway transport.
Established by Ábrahám Ganz (1814–1867) in 1844 and commissioned in early 1845, the Ganz Factory played an instrumental role in manufacturing railway vehicles. The plant started to manufacture chilled-iron wheels for railway application in 1854. At the time, the wheels of railway wagons were made of wrought iron with spokes in Europe. Chill casting had been invented by a British engineer, John Burn in 1812 and the method was applied soon afterwards in America. After purchasing the patent to use the method in manufacturing, the Ganz Factory applied a separate coating on the surface of the wheels contacting the rails to improve rigidity and durability. The words of Ábrahám Ganz, entrepreneur of those days set in a letter to his parents may be seen as a message to the present day: “… my plans are serious, and believe me, if you begin something and fail, you should not despair, as patience, courage and resilience are powerful forces that help deliver you to success: whoever has no confidence in the future deserves nothing but pity.” The factory used to operate at a site in Buda now occupied by the Cast House Museum.
The Hungarian–Belgian Machinery Vessel Construction Company, established in the year following the Compromise of 1867 in Kőbányai Street, had been transferred to the State of Hungary in 1870 and continued to operate as the Machinery Plant of the State Railways. The operations of the time focused on making steam boilers and a variety of hardware. This plant is also the legal predecessor of MÁVAG, which began to manufacture steam locomotives according to Austrian plans in 1873. Designed fully in Hungary, the modern locomotives made for the Tisza Regional Railway were presented to the audiences at the 1878 Paris World Expo. Manufacturing grew rapidly. The Millennial Exhibition held in Budapest in 1896 already featured locomotive No. 1000. Zsigmond Kordina was the head of a team of internationally recognised engine designers employed by MÁVAG at the time. The locomotives manufactured there could travel at speeds up to 100 km/hour already in 1900. The international acclaim surrounding railway vehicle operations was also reflected by the Grand Prize awarded to MÁVAG’s twin cylinder express train locomotive at the Paris World Exhibition in 1900.
Track laying and the construction of depots and stations ran simultaneously. An outstanding specimen of these projects is the main building of Budapest’s Nyugati (Western) Railway Station with a hall constructed in 1877 according to a plan produced by the office of the French architect, Gustave Eiffel. Keleti (Eastern) Railway Station was completed in 1884.
Managed by Kálmán Kandó (1869–1931), the Ganz Factory played a role in manufacturing railway engines for electric traction in the late 19th century. Ganz produced the first three-phase engine commissioned to operate along the banks of Lake Geneva in 1898. Engines of the same make were used along the Valtellina railway in Italy at the beginning of the 20th century (1902). This was the world’s first (106 km) railway section operated with high voltage alternating current, with every essential component developed under the direction of Kálmán Kandó at Ganz.
With the Austro–Hungarian Monarchy falling apart after World War I, Hungary faced new challenges. The territorial loss imposed by the Trianon Peace Treaty led to serious disproportions in the economy of the country. Although operations concerning the manufacturing of railway vehicles remained in Hungary, only 38% of the railway network was left in the dismembered country. Restructuring the industry in merit was the only available option, which culminated in international recognition in several areas, including the manufacturing of railway vehicles.
Relying on Kálmán Kandó’s engine development projects, the design and manufacturing of electric railway engines took root at the Ganz Factory. The first electric locomotive fitted with phase converter technology departed for a test run on 31 October 1923. Manufactured by Ganz, the fastest and most powerful electric locomotive of the time was put in operation between Paris and Orleans in 1926. Hungary completed the electrification of the Budapest–Hegyeshalom line in 1932 and train service started with the electric locomotives designed by Kandó. (Railway legend has it that conductors [ticket inspectors] off and on missed to hop on swiftly accelerating trains.)
Designed and modelled to perfection in 1924, the popular and cutting-edge 424 steam locomotive was manufactured for MÁV until 1959. The improved grate area of the double cylinder twin engine could utilise poorer quality domestic coal extremely efficiently. Hungary’s Deputy Governor István Horthy (1904–1942), whose life ended abruptly, participated as a mechanical engineer in the development of the 424 steam engine.
In the meantime, the engine manufacturing division of Ganz, headed by mechanical engineer György Jendrassik (1898–1954), who later became general manager of the plant, kept focusing on how to make railway vehicles driven by internal combustion engines. The plant started to manufacture engines in 1925 to move on to making 220 LE diesel engines branded Ganz–Jendrassik in 1928, which added significant export potential. In addition to reaching European markets, Ganz motor coach trains were also exported to Egypt and Latin America. A total of 550 trains were exported before World War II began. Manufacturing the AMC 13 railbus started in 1925, which led on to the launch of Árpád, a bogie rail car covering the way between Budapest and Vienna in 2 hours and 57 minutes.
MÁV was the first in Europe to introduce motor coach trains in internal traffic too. A former general manager of the Ganz Factory, András Mechwart (1834–1907) practiced exactly what he preached in a message: “One has to prepare in due course for future requirements to be able to meet them with as little competition and at as great an effect as possible.”
The country was devastated and in ruins after World War II. Industrial operations, including Ganz, had suffered serious damage. Moreover, Hungary’s duty to pay war compensation under the armistice treaty signed in Moscow on 20 January 1945 was a serious burden on the country. The Soviet troops of the Red Army occupied the bombarded Ganz Factory on 8 January 1945. Initially, operations restarted with making food canisters, buckets, heating equipment, hoes and shovels. The plant was under military supervision until the summer of 1945 when the period of having to meet compensation duties started. That involved the shipment to the Soviet Union of 4,640 four-axle wagons with bottom doors and pneumatic brakes and 800 four-axle container cars made by Ganz, MÁVAG and the Hungarian Wagon and Machinery Works of Győr. War compensation also covered the shipment to the Soviet Union of 10 Ganz–Jendrassik motor coach trains originally manufactured for Argentina, which were stuck at the plant due to the war. Ten four-axle Class III passenger carriages, 50 four-axle Class II passenger carriages, 50 post coaches were sent to Yugoslavia and six three-part diesel engine trains, 1000 two-axle wagons and 25 two-axle refrigerator wagons were delivered to Czechoslovakia also in compensation, as required by the armistice treaty. About 70% of the country’s railway vehicles ended up abroad during the war and half of the locomotives left in the country were destroyed. György Jendrassik was forced to leave the country and to waive his patent rights in 1947. He lived in Argentina in 1947, and afterwards in England, until his death in 1954.
In addition to meeting war compensation requirements, Ganz and MÁVAG started to repair locomotives and gradually moved to manufacturing new vehicles. Engine manufacturing was progressively assigned to different plants, due partially to conceptually unsound industrial policies gaining ground. Ganz was left with manufacturing railway engines.
The vehicle sector of the time primarily meant making railway vehicles. Shipments to Argentina, which had been halted by the war, restarted gradually between 1948 and 1952. An agreement concluded in Buenos Aires on 27 January 1949 set the stage covering the shipment of 26 motor coach trains (with 108 coach units) to the South American customer. A five-part motor coach train made by Ganz was a great success at the International Railway Exhibition opened on 7 September 1957 at the 9th Pan American Railway Congress. Ganz sold steam and diesel engines, while Hungarian Wagon and Machinery Works of Győr, renamed by then as Wilhelm Pieck Wagon and Machinery Works, shipped passenger, sleeper and restaurant cars to Egypt. Ganz received a major order for railway vehicles from Poland and made the trains in service along the Prague–Dresden–Berlin line for Czechoslovakia, as well as the Hungária express service, running on the Budapest–Prague–Berlin line started in the summer of 1960.
In 1958, MÁV commenced to operate a version of the Hargita motor coach, which was a train fabricated during the war, along the Budapest–Nagykanizsa and the Budapest–Keszthely lines.
Ganz Wagon and Marchinery Factory merged with MÁVAG on 1 January 1959 under the name of Ganz MÁVAG Engine, Wagon and Machinery Factory. The factory started manufacturing Ward–Leonard locomotives in cooperation with Ganz Electric Works (known at the time as Klement Gottwald Electric Plant) and between 1959 and 1962 made 30 units used primarily for freight services.
The electric OH system of the Budapest–Miskolc line was completed in 1962 and brought with it the commissioning of new electric engines. All that moved in tandem with continuous product development, which was typical of the Ganz operation. MÁV imported 7 locomotives with silicon rectifiers in 1961 and made 7 identical units in 1962 based on a licence agreement in cooperation with eight Western European operations, such as Grupp from Germany and SFAG from France. Ganz prototyped a diesel-electric engine according to MAV specifications and exhibited it at a fair in Zagreb in 1963 only to start production in series soon.
As a dominant player in railway vehicle manufacturing for over 100 years, the Ganz Factory converted Ward–Leonard engines to thyristor or controlled semiconductor diode engines in 1968 and started to design and produce diesel-hydraulic locomotives to meet new MÁV requirements (shunting engine with hydraulic reversal). The engines made by Ganz also reached markets outside Europe and were successfully introduced in Egypt and Latin America. Ganz won a contract to make trains for suburban service around Wellington under a tender call by New Zealand Railways (NZR) in 1978 (and delivered the trains in 1982).
Established in 1989, Ganz-Hunslet Co. excelled in the 90s by developing a four-part InterCity motor coach train. The electric installations of the vehicle were produced jointly by ABB and Ganz Ansaldo. All of the coaches were air-conditioned.
Time will not obscure these achievements. Hungarian railway vehicle manufacturing employed outstanding engineers and skilled workers to produce a range of competitive products. In my capacity as a researcher of technical history, I offer these examples hoping for a revival of this sector. Aware of the standard of instruction as a professor in engineering, I am convinced that Hungary’s engineering professionals can play an important and decisive role in 21st century railway vehicle manufacturing.•