Railway Tunnel Connecting Head Stations
The railway terminals in Budapest were so busy already at the end of the 19th century that any further expansion was impeded by the conventional head-station configuration. 120 years later, this problem has still not been resolved: In an unprecedented way in modern Europe, nearly all trains coming to Budapest end up at head stations.
Reconfiguring the stations to allow trains to move on is a self-evident solution, for which a railway tunnel must be constructed underneath the city just like in the case of London and Madrid, for example. Many plans of this nature were produced, primarily in the first half of the 20th century. Szilárd Zielinski developed plans in 1898 to connect the railway lines on the Pest side in a north-south direction, where passengers could have alighted at underground stations. He presented his concept, supplemented with an express railway network, in his doctoral thesis in 1901.
The main station would have been constructed underneath the Astoria junction and to substitute steam traction under the city, the trains would have been towed by electric locomotives from marshalling yards in the outskirts of the town. MÁV took the plan so seriously that they even began working on elaborating the details, but then the war broke out.
Pieri Cézar’s draft from 1937 set out to connect the Western Railway Terminal, converted into an underground train station, with the Kelenföld station through a 5km underground line. However, the most meticulously detailed concept was presented by Lajos Ruzitska in 1939. He intended to connect the Western Railway Terminal, converted into a Central Terminal, with Kelenföld; his further developed design was approved in 1943 even by the Ministry of Trade and Transport. His detailed study on the railway tunnel contains a number of conclusions that are still valid to this day regarding the structural problems of Budapest’s railway network.
The concept did not resurface for quite some time after World War Two, however, the preparations for the large-scale project has began in recent years. This is because the immense inbound motorised traffic from the agglomeration can be reduced by suburban rail transport development and one of the key prerequisites for this and the connection of the European intercity railway networks is the elimination of the outdated head station system that would make the Budapest railway infrastructure interoperable. The plan for a tunnel resurfaced among the officially adopted plans in the Budapest Agglomeration Railway Strategy adopted in late 2021.
“Those who board a train in Arad, Nagyvárad, Fiume, Gödöllő, Soroksár or Cinkota can reach any point of the city without having to change and can alight at any one of these three stations. On the other hand, one departing from Budapest can board a direct train and a direct coach at any station in Budapest.”
The daily Pest Napló on Szilárd Zielinski’s plan, 1898
(1) Lajos Ruzitska's statement on the comfort problems of old railway stations is still relevant in 2022.
(2-3) Longitudinal section of the line connecting the terminals in Lajos Ruzitska’s 1939 study and the same in the current plan of the Budapest Development Centre.
(4) Lajos Ruzitska’s 1939 plan with a railway tunnel connecting the head stations between the new Southern Railway Terminal and the Central Terminal designed to replace the Western Railway Terminal.
(5) Győző Wittenbarth developed a grand scale plan in 1930 for a connection between the envisaged new Northern and Southern Railway Terminals via an underground stretch following the route of the Small Boulevard, with one station under Museum Boulevard, accessible from the yard of the National Museum.
(6) The plan of the Ministry of Trade and Transport, adopted in 1943, based on Ruzitska’s previous concept.