Nyugati station was Budapest's first railway station, so its place in the rail history of Hungary is secured, that's for sure! But that's not all: the place where the station stands is also connected to our tram history, too. The first horse tram line between Kálvin tér and Újpest (1866) had a stop here, from that point on we can speak of this location as an important traffic node. At first sight this might seem strange, because you would expect that a railway station is always an important traffic node, but you have to understand that this place lay in the outskirts of Pest when it was built in 1846, and so played only marginal role in the city's life. The Nagykörút (Grand Boulevard), one of the main traffic paths of the city was built out only several decades later - but the existence of the tram line and a few years later the scheming of the Grand Boulevard (1871) turned the surroundings of the railway station into one of the busiest spots of the by the then united twin city of Budapest. To celebrate the turn of events, a new station was designed and built by hungarian and french (Bureaux Eiffel) architects in 1877.
New developments lead to even more development: traffic grew and grew, and in 1887 the terminus, generator station and depot of the experimental electric tram was built in front of the new station. A new era has begun...
The first electric
tram in Budapest
A small remark: to make things easier, I use current (as of 2002) names for places and streets. They have been renamed many times in the last more than hundred years, so it would be quite wearing to mention all of them...
The first tram in Budapest with electric traction set off on the 28th of November, 1887. It was a glorious day!
Siemens & Halske designed a meter-gauge tram system with underground conduit (hiding between the two halves of one of the running rails) specially for Budapest. The line was in fact a real-life experiment founded by the company itself to promote the usage of electric trams. It was operated between Nyugati station and Király utca with three cars (two motor cars and one trailer) using 145V AC, running at 10 km/h max. Stops: Nyugati tér (tér = square), Szondi utca, Oktogon, Oktogon II, Király utca. People were first scared of the fact that the current comes from underground, but then they fell in love with the "electric railway" as they have called it back then, quickly. What's more important, the good reception convinced the City Convention that electric trams work (although they still ruled out the usage of overhead wires). A new company called BVV was set up (again by Siemens & Halske) to build the first normal-gauge (1435 mm) tram in Europe in Baross utca, between Egyetem tér and Orczy tér. They also completed the Grand Boulevard line of the company (later renamed to BVVV when bought out by investors) by 1892, this time using normal-gauge tracks. With this, the core of a tram network was laid down.
The success of BVV forced Budapest's traditional horse-tram company BKVT into electrifying its lines and re-think its network. A fierce battle started between the two companies turning the city into one of the tram capitals of the world!
This battle had a few disadvantages. For example, BVVV owned Grand Boulevard between Nyugati station and Boráros tér (Teréz körút - Erzsébet körút - József körút - Ferenc körút), but BKVT had a concession for the boulevard between Nyugati and Jászai Mari tér (Szent István körút), and also for Buda and the Small Boulevard (which consists of Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út - Károly körút - Múzeum körút - Vámház körút). This meant that the ring-roads of the inner city were disjointed, leading to frequent interchanges for the metropolitans during rides. What now is just a stop of tram lines 4 and 6 was a terminus for BVVV's core routes then.
BVVV routes stopping at Nyugati in 1901 (route numbers were not yet introduced):
Because BKVT has started earlier with the development of a (horse-tram) network, they had concessions for most of the big streets of the inner city. Their lines at Nyugati could be divided into two groups: one is the axis of the first horse tram line coming from the heart of the city on Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út and going to the outskirts through Váci út, the other is the Small Boulevard routes (the Small Boulevard consists of Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út - Károly körút - Múzeum körút - Vámház körút). This second route was used by many circular services coming and going from and to Buda (the other side of the river Danube) in both directions.
BKVT routes stopping at Nyugati in 1910:
As you can see, BKVT and BVVV lines didn't overlap. When they wanted to reach the same spot, they built out their own route there, and this made the whole network redundant. As for the square in front and around the railway station, they used it in a strange way: although the tracks of the two companies were physically connected, they didn't share them. BVVV had its terminus right in front of the station, while BKVT had through and stub tracks in the axis of Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út and Váci út. As the years passed by, traffic demanded dramatic expansion of the number of passengers to be carried. This was the era when the companies introduced trailers and unidirectional trains, a move demanding 180-degrees turning possibilities at the terminals. The only solution was to built turning loops in the streets around the square. In 1911 BVVV built out a loop at where now the empty space opposite the station is - until 1979 there was a building here, which was circled by the tracks back then. Then, in 1914 BKVT set up a loop for its routes using Kádár utca and Visegrádi utca (but they haven't started to use it).
After losing World War 1 and two consecutive revolutions (!), Hungary was in a very bad shape, and this had an impact on the public transportation of Budapest, too. After the second uprising was foiled, the owners of BKVT and BVVV refused to take responsibility for the operation of the joint urban transportation company BEVV, which was formed out of their original firms back in 1918. In 1919 traffic on 23 tram routes was paused, and passengers of the remaining 40 (!) have also experienced problems: train succession was incalculable, cars and tracks were in a very bad shape. It was a big mess - deep in the post-war depression, just like the rest of the country!
Things finally started to look better after a new public transportation company was formed by the city - its name was BSzKRt. In reality this was the merger of BKVT, BVVV and the acquisition of the majority of shares in several small transportation companies like FJFVV (the operator of the Milleneum subway line), BURV, BVKV and BLVV. The new company had a lot to do (e.g. standardizing equipments, repairing rolling stock, replacing conduit with catenary on all of the network, etc). One of their most important duties was rationalizing the network. Company concession boundaries were ceased, parallel services were abandoned, disjointed branches were connected. However, the importance of Nyugati tér was still big enough, so in 1924 a new turning loop was opened using newly built tracks in Stollár Béla utca and Bihari János utca. This could be also used as a roundabout so that routes coming from Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út could evade the possible (tram) traffic jams at the busy Nyugati tér. Also, they took the Kádár utca - Visegrádi utca loop into use.
BSzKRt routes at Nyugati station
Routes operated by BURV:
I'm pretty sure that this is an undigestable heap of street names for most of you, but I can assure you that this was tram heaven - most of these lines are long gone now: closed, abandoned or replaced by subway! You can try to find these places on this map, and if you know today's Budapest a bit, you'll be amazed to find trams where you would least expect them!
In the 1930's BSzKRt reorganized its routes and tariff system once more, cutting the Grand Boulevard into two sections again! At the same time they expanded the turning loop for the Grand Boulevard services with a second track. The two tracks traversed over each other so that trams would leave the loop at the right side. To make room for the new boarding platform, one of the straight-through tracks between Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út and Váci út was removed, forcing trams going this way to take a little detour through Visegrádi utca and Kádár utca.
This was part of an attempt to reduce the services going through the square: from the 18 lines in 1910 only 8 has left. Before we go on, let's see two images from the twenties and thirties! To the left: two trams (a 1000er and a 2800-series car) in Jókai utca. To the right: the tram coming towards us and the lower right corner of the picture is leaving the Jókai utca loop for Óbuda, while the other (with two trailers) is heading back for the Grand Boulevard.
This map shows the square (called Berlini tér - Berlin square then) in 1937. You can see the three turning loops, some passing loops and the lack of straight tracks between Váci út and Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út quite clearly. On the picture next to the map you can see the zillions of tracks in real life.
Archive photos and maps: the collections of Zoltán Ádám Németh, "Mr. Cyber" and the author
Current photos: Varga Ákos Endre, unless stated differently
© Ákos Endre VARGA, unless stated otherwise. All rights reserved.
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