The Children’s Railway up in the beautiful and green Buda Hills, formerly known as the Pioneer Train in Communist Budapest, when Hungary was part of the big Soviet empire, offers unique fun and scenic train rides on its narrow gauge rails. It is most popular among families with children, outdoorsy tourists who love to go off the beaten track, and of course by railway enthusiasts. Basically, this is the only remnant of Communist times that has always been happily embraced by all, and we are still happy that it runs, what is more, it runs every day.
Why is it called Children’s Railway? Well, not because of the size.
The trains can comfortably accommodate families, groups, schoolchildren, adults, etc. although they are somewhat smaller than usual trains.
The railway is run by a professional team of adults and kids, where children do many of the tasks while supervised by adults: not only the soft jobs, like selling tickets or Gyermekvasut memorabilia, but also actually managing the train traffic, switching levers, releasing trains from the train stations in the Buda Hills, etc.
Mind you, this is not the sort of child labour and exploitation that we hear from third world countries.
Kids are very proud to do their jobs on the Children’s Railway, which is one of the top attractions in Budapest. The train rides are fun for all, safe, have been safe for over half a century.
Opening Hours Budapest Children’s Railway
Trains run every day on the back of the Buda Hills, calling at all seven Children’s Railway stations.
Train Schedule Budapest Children’s Railway
The timetable of the trains is subject to change. Please check the official website for the current train times.
Special Events Budapest Children’s Railway
The Budapest Children’s Railway is not simply a train company, but also the organizer of some of the best children events in Budapest. To name but a few of the annually recurring events (again, please check the official site for current details):
Friday, 15th March 2013
Hike Along the Children’s Railway
Saturday, 13th April 2013
Children’s Railway Day 2013
Sunday, 28th April 2013
Open Days (27th & 28th April)
Saturday, 18th May 2013
Szechenyi Remembrance Day
Sunday, 26th May 2013
Saturday, 22nd June 2013
Long Night of Museums
Santa Claus Railway on / around December 6, 2013 (Santa Claus comes on Dec 6 in Hungary)
History of Budapest Children’s Railway
The Pioneer Railway (Uttorovasut) with the Pioneer City (Csilleberc) were built as part of the Communist youth developments with a big national hooray. You can find some more Children’s Railway companies still functioning in the former Communist block, as the pioneer trains have been widely developed in the 1940s in the Soviet Union, in Yugoslavia, and outside in some red countries. Interestingly enough, at the beginning of the project the train was simply called Children’s Railway, as the train was to be shared with the Hungarian Scouts, and other non-communist child organizations (who were later excluded of course).
Construction of the Children’s Railway began on April 11, 1948 (and the Children’s Railway still celebrates is birthday, on or around April 11). Urban legend says that the train was built by unpaid volunteers, but the truth is, quoting from Gyermekvasut.hu
Contrary to exaggerated and romantic memories, the railway was not entirely built by volunteers. Most of the job was done by constructing teams employed by the Hungarian State Railways. Groups of pioneers and adult volunteers joined them on Sundays to do unskilled labour.
From the very beginning the children were carefully picked to become pioneer train employees. The 80 children picked from the schools of Budapest had to have excellent grades. By July 1948 both the train and the camp site have been renamed as Pioneer Train and Pioneer City. Nevertheless, the Pioneer City opened with pioneers, scouts, etc. all participating.
The Communist Hungarian state who financed the whole costly project made it a priority to finish the project at any costs. By 1950 August 20 (the Day of the Hungarian State), the full length of the Budapest Children’s Railway was opened to the public. As with many openings during the Communist times, the opening ceremony did not mean that the constructions was finished. Huvosvolgy Station, the main station of the Children’s Railway was opened in 1951.
Over the 60 years of the Children’s Railway many high ranking communist leaders took a ride on the trains as part of the successful Communist propaganda. Pioneer train personnel was sent to visit schools and talk about their tasks as role models of the Communist youth.
After 1989, when Hungary regained her independence and became a democratic country, the Pioneer Train was saved from the clearance, as it was considered more of a child fun than a loathed Communist symbol. The train was renamed as Children’s Railway (Gyermekvasut), and some of its train stations named after symbols and characters of the Pioneer movement (e.g. ‘Forward!’ the greeting of pioneers), were also renamed. But its main image, policies, procedures and rituals have been well preserved. Therefore, taking a fun ride on the Children’s Railway is also a bit of time travel.
You can see some of the old Pioneer items, the remnants of the Communist era in the smallish Children’s Railway Museum on Huvosvolgy Train Station.