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The Children’s Railway has many interesting details from a technical point of view.
It was constructed on a terrain very difficult for adhesion railways. The location was selected against the odds in order to provide the newly opened children’s camp at Csilleberc with public transportation in 1948. Even if technology has advanced since then, the conditions still bring about many technical hitches.
The length of the running line is 11.2 kilometres (7 miles). The depot area in Huvosvolgy adds 0.5 kilometres (0.3 miles) to it.
The gauge, the distance between the inner sides of the railheads, is 760 mms (30 inches). It was a standardised value for narrow gauge railways in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and still it is the most widely used one in Central Europe.
Szechenyi-hegy terminal is located 466 metres (1,529 feet), Huvosvolgy terminal 230 metres (755 feet) above sea level. The difference of 236 metres (774 feet) leaves an average gradient of 21‰.
The area of hills and valleys confines a line to tight curves. Only one third of the entire railway line runs in straight sections. The radius of one of the curves is only 50 metres (164 feet) and there are some with 80 metres (262 feet).
Ever since the line was opened, the gradients and curves have been bringing about difficulties for hauling uphill trains, breaking downhill ones and managing shunting movements.
The maximum speed allowed for any train or shunting movement is 20 km/h (12 mph).
All diesel engines and the heritage railcar are equipped with a speed controlling device applying the breaks and bringing the train to a halt automatically in case the maximum allowed speed is exceeded by more than a specified degree of tolerance.
Originally, when the line was opened in 1948, the maximum speed allowed was set at 35 km/h (22 mph). It was reduced to 20 km/h (12 mph) the next year due to safety reasons.
Stations and haltings
Currently there are seven stations and two haltings on the line of the Children’s Railway.
Apart from some modernisation the seven stations have not changed much since they were opened. In 1990 the names of three were replaced with new ones in order to end all references to the pioneers’ movement.
Although originally designed otherwise, every station has got only two main tracks. One of them is the straight continuation of the running line, the other one is for meeting and passing trains. Only the two terminals, Szechenyi-hegy and Huvosvolgy Stations have more tracks to side vehicles.
The lengths of the platforms vary. The shortest ones, 58 metres (190 feet) long, are at Janos-hegy Station, the longest ones, 209 metres (686 feet), are at Huvosvolgy Station.
At the time of the opening, there were two haltings on the line. One of them was closed within a year due to difficulties in starting trains on the rise gradient. The other one, called Normafa Halting, was relocated in 1973 in order to provide a better connection to the city’s public transportation system. Vadaspark Halting was installed in 2004 and has been operated on a seasonal basis in summer since 2006.
The line of the Children’s Railway runs in the hills of Budapest. Theoretically the average gradient is 21‰ but in fact the sharpest slopes are of 32‰.
The highest point of the line is to be found between Szechenyi-hegy Station and Normafa Halting at 470 metres (1,542 feet) above sea level.
The line from Szechenyi-hegy Station to Csilleberc Station, 1.7 kilometres (1 mile) long, can be considered relatively flat running on a plateau. Onward to Viragvolgy Station, 1.3 kilometres (0.8 miles) long, it follows the edge of a mountain ridge.
From Viragvolgy Station to Huvosvolgy Station the terrain is significantly different. The line crosses many spurs and negotiates deep valleys. The average gradient of this section is 25 to 30‰. Between Hars-hegy and Huvosvolgy Stations, one of the foothills is crossed in a 198 metre (650 feet) long, U shape tunnel.
The very simple layouts of the five mid stations and Huvosvolgy terminal leave each one of them with only two turnouts. Only Szechenyi-hegy station and the depot area in Huvosvolgy have got more complex layouts.
The turnouts are operated by Children’s Railway participants at every station. Most of them are manual turnouts, operated on the spot with a counterbalance. Two of the turnouts of Szechenyi-hegy Station are operated by hand from the signal box. The turnouts of Csilleberc and Szepjuhaszne Stations are equipped with electric motors and are remotely controlled from the station office.
Every turnout that trains run on are equipped with some kind of locking. Their purpose is to prevent the turnout to be operated unintentionally or hampered with. The systems installed are intended to be different at almost every station to facilitate as many as possible on the line. The most basic tool is a mechanical lock on the flip rail whose key is to be brought into the station office by the switchman. The modern ones are electric.
The maximum speed allowed on switches is 20 km/h (12 mph) on straight routes. It is equal to that on the running line. On diverging routes, the speed must be reduced to 15 km/h (9 mph).
There are three types of couplers on the vehicles listed at the Children’s Railway.
The diesel engines and passengers’ carriages, which run as everyday services, and some other vehicles are equipped with coupling devices unique to the Children’s Railway. The design was developed in the famous Ganz factory in the 1930’s. It was intended for railcar sets, just like the ones the Children’s Railway initially had. It is semi automatic, only needs manual handing before but not during the processes of coupling and uncoupling.
Time went by this coupling system fast. This must have been the reason why it was not applied to the rolling stock of other railways.
The heritage railcar and most of its trailers are equipped with another type of couplers. They are similar to the buffers usually applied to trams. However, they are not to be found on other narrow gauge vehicles, only on city trams delivered until the 1970’s. They are entirely manual.
The rest of the rolling stock, including the two steam engines and the goods wagons, have got the usual couplers of Hungarian narrow gauge railways. These buffers are the legacy of these vehicles’ history of service on other lines before being listed at the Children’s Railway. They are operated manually, too.
Of course, vehicles with different types of systems must be coupled on a regular basis. The tram type and the common non-automatic buffers are compatible, they can be coupled easily. When it comes to coupling a vehicle with a Ganz coupler and another with a different type of buffers, a special intermediate unit must be inserted between the couplers.
The special terrain of the hills of Budapest imposes a special task in the area of breaking at the Children’s Railway. Unlike other railways, including ones running on sharp gradients, every vehicle has got two air brake circuits.
One of them is the usual European version of air brakes. The compressor of the engine or the railcar supplies air at a specified pressure. When speed is to be reduced, the engine stops hauling and the breaks of the carriages are applied.
The other circuit is the extension of the engine’s own breaking system to the carriages. Every carriage has got an air tank of its own. The breaks are controlled remotely by the engine driver through the breaking circuit of the engine or the railcar. When the train needs to slow, every vehicle, including the engine, applies its breaks.
The two circuits were introduced for safety reasons. Travelling downhill the speed of the train can only be controlled by continuous breaking. Theoretically in case one of the systems is exhausted, the other one can be applied to bring the train to a halt safely. However, with highly reliable parts and compressors such an incident has not happened in recent decades.