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Fans on the hilltops, competitors on the steel tracks - the curve combination of Öskü and other stories from the foothills of Bakony

Székesfehérvár – Öskü – Kolontár – Ajka, 29 December 2020

This landscape is a bit foreign. The barren, karstic hills could be even described as somewhat beautiful, though nothing grows here other than the subpannonian lawn. It is more suitable as a military training ground – sovereigns and warlords surveyed their troops from the rocks rising modestly above the swaying countryside here throughout history. The railway line crossing the Bakony, connecting Székesfehérvár with Celldömölk (back then Kiscell) was opened in 1872 by one of MÁV's predecessors, the Hungarian Western Railway. The terrain is not particularly challenging, but only a thrifty branch line was built without any major structures, with long bends bypassing hills and valleys instead. One of the best-known “bend combination” divides Öskü in two – at the top of the railway notch is the famous round church, a common pilgrimage site for both believers and railway lovers. Since the closure of industrial plants – sometimes accompanied by real disasters – in the area, local freight traffic has seen a massive decline, but has been replaced by international freight trains to Slovenia and Italy, commonly carrying valuable cargo. You can easily spend a whole day here just admiring the traffic; in addition to the freight trains of competing cargo companies, the Bakony and Göcsej InterCity trains pulled by the classic V43 class locomotives (nicknamed ‘Szili’) offer a rich and varied sight.

Photos by Endre Barta and Attila Láber, original text in Hungarian by Endre Barta, translated into English by Attila Láber -  The German, Slovak, Romanian and Ukrainian texts were translated by Google.

Székesfehérvár railway depot, December 29, 2020 7:04 - Cold diesels guard the gate with daylight inside, as the first streaks of dawn are starting to rise behind the hall. 478 218 (nicknamed Dácsia) spent December around Veszprém, but due to less work during the holidays it was brought back to the Székesfehérvár base. Next to it is the former A21 026 locomotive of the Mátravidéki Power Plant in Lőrinci, which mysteriously swapped track numbers with Győr’s M28 1007.

Székesfehérvár railway depot, December 29, 2020 7:05 - In the control room of the turntable a small, illuminated decoration provides a Christmas atmosphere. Fans of diesel locomotives no longer celebrate, although in 2003 they even held a Csörgő-birthday here, spinning around the freshly painted M41 2143 on the turntable. Székesfehérvár once operated a respectable Csörgő fleet, but things have changed since. The last passenger train to Tapolca pulled by such classic rattling diesel left Székesfehérvár the last day before the north-Balaton track lock, on 27 September 2020. The current track lock will last until the completion of electrification up to Balatonfüred in 2021, so the Csörgő era has come to an end over here as well. The last passenger diesel locomotives only visit Fehérvár for periodic overhauls, the railway depot was given a new task by maintaining the Desiro DMUs.

Székesfehérvár railway depot, December 29, 2020 7:09 AM - Perhaps the fact that the MTMG-Ludmillas did not have to spend the Christmas break parked over the drip pan reveals something about their mechanical condition. Székesfehérvár, the largest intersection of Transdanubia is an ideal storage place, the locomotives can quickly reach Komárom or Gyékényes from here, where their usual tasks will await them in the new year as well. In Southern Transdanubia, the railway would be in big trouble without the mainline diesels; due to the partial but long-term closure of the Dombóvár - Gyékényes railway line, many freight trains on the Drava line are forced to take a roundabout way via Barcs, where there is no overhead wire above the tracks.

Székesfehérvár railway depot, December 29, 2020 7:14 – Far away from its home, Debrecen, M41 2131 is getting its B class periodical overhaul done here at Székesfehérvár. The Szili next to it is also under repair, but the Sergei in the background is here for another reason: it is getting snow plows installed in preparation for winter operations.

Székesfehérvár railway depot, December 29, 2020 7:20 - Two Alstom Prima freight locomotives arrived in Hungary from France in 2018, 27175 in the picture and its brother, 27178 (491 001) already holding the necessary hungarian permits and track number. They are real tough guys, with a service weight of 90 tonnes, converting to exactly 22.5t per axle. Despite the fact that more and more main lines are being rebuilt, we still cannot talk about an interconnected railway network, capable of bearing an axle load of 22.5 tons throughout. Between Budapest and the Slovenian border on the Székesfehérvár-Boba section they are trying to fix this by reinforcing the sidetracks used for train crossings at all major stations, and by only allowing 22.5t axle load trains to travel on the main tracks and the open line 20 km/h slower than the otherwise permitted maximum speed. Now all they have to do is fix a short section around Városlőd, and the Alstom Prima can be on its way, it surely has the power to do so!

Székesfehérvár, December 29, 2020 7:38 - The statue of Nándor Kóthay was erected in 1956, the railway worker was – according to a contemporary art analysis – „a very likeable individual, his contemplative and thoughtful attitude is not shown in the ways of repose, but rather in the state of deliberation and observation”. His gaze is directed towards the demolished control tower and the unfinished pedestrian overpass. The platelayer saw a lot, but said nothing. Photographed by Attila Láber

Székesfehérvár, December 29, 2020 7:40 - The blue FLIRT has just arrived from the capital, the red one will soon depart to Siófok. It is not the fault of the art relic roof that it looks like a pre-teen’s outgrown pants. It fails to protect the passenger right where it should do the most, but the 30-centimeter-high platform also shows some incompatibility with the 55-centimeter floor level of the electric multiple unit. The cheap paving stone does not even worth discussing, but returning to the reinforced concrete cantilevered socialist-realist style platform roof, it still serves as a spectacular ornament of the station.

Öskü, December 29, 2020 8:43 AM - Finally THE place where nothing changes… An electrified main line rarely becomes a place of pilgrimage, but the bend combination of Öskü is truly a must-see, providing all-day entertainment. Especially since the Bakony and Göcsej InterCity trains are running hourly, with diversly aged, classic Szili locomotives in front of the four carriages. There are a handful of locomotives with rusty roofs, yet the appearance of Dombóvár’s 1149 is completely unique – it is seen here arriving at Öskü with the 909 Bakony IC, running between Szombathely and Budapest-Déli.

Öskü, December 29, 2020 9:15 - “High noise exposure, multiple explosions”, the Hungarian Defense Forces informs the residents of the surrounding villages every month about the ongoing activities of the Bakony Combat Training Center. Öskü became extinct in the Turkish era, later the German settlers following them were forced to flee by the kuruc army, but finally after that some more resilient people settled in from Upper Hungary. The village is still flourishing today, despite constantly being bombarded by the noise of not only the the practicing combat equipment, but also the the trains. At least the latter comes with its advantages, like having a quick connection to the nearest county seat or the capital every two hours from the stop.

Hajmáskér, December 29, 2020 9:37 - The long-distance trains between Zalaegerszeg and Budapest named Göcsej IC pass through the station without stopping. Since the electrification of the line, no such major upgrades came to follow, except the rehabilitation of the Ukk-Boba triangle. Hajmáskér was also left untouched with its awfully low platforms and its tricentric Siemens-Halske interlocking system, which is managed by a three-person crew. Not like there was a shortage of ideas - a two-track line suitable for speeds of 160 km/h was planned between Székesfehérvár and Veszprém, which would have been directly connected to the North Balaton railway via a branchline. Photographed by Attila Láber

Vilonya, December 29, 2020 10:14 - Passenger traffic on the Hajmáskér – Lepsény branch line ceased in 2007. A few years later, the Bobos (Class M44 engines) of the Balatonfűzfő industrial railway also moved elsewhere, although they used to go up to Hajmáskér daily. Nowadays the shunting freight train only runs twice a week under the famous rocks of Vilonya; on Tuesdays and Fridays. The tank wagons are brought to Balatonfűzfő-Gyártelep, more precisely to the VízTEC industrial track, branching out before the gate of the large factory. The factory used to have a direct connection with Balatonfűzfő station on the North Lake Balaton line, but it got disbanded in the early 90s. Since then the factory has been only accessible from Hajmáskér. Photographed by Attila Láber

Öskü, December 29, 2020 10:53 - As the morning rush hour calms down on the railways surrounding Budapest, freight trains heading towards larger rural junctions or border stations can also get the clear signal to proceed. This Metrans container train departed from the Metrans terminal in Csepel, and its destination is the Slovenian seaport Koper. The Czech Vectron MS with track number 383 408 is barely a year old, not so long ago these trains were pulled by Metrans’ diesel Hercules locomotives. Photographed by Attila Láber

Öskü, 29 December 2020 11:01 - It didn’t take long for the next freight train to roll in after the Metrans container train passed by. Ford's car transport train usually runs twice a week between Craiova and Venice, and it is forwarded by DB Cargo Hungary between the Romanian (Curtici) and Slovenian (Hodos) border stations. The Czech Metrans uses German Vectrons, while the German-owned DB Cargo Hungary operates with Romanian Softronic Phoenix locomotives: it’s just the way things are in Central Europe. Photographed by Attila Láber

Öskü, December 29, 2020 11:15 - The Árpád-era round church of Öskü looks like a mushroom house from Smurf Village up close, but smurfs are not the ones running circles around it. Although Szili 1261 is originally based in Békéscsaba, it arrived in Transdanubia mid-December after doing passenger runs near Miskolc in October and in the Szolnok area in November. The traditional 1000 series Szili locomotives are still what’s determining the image of the Bakony main line for now, but with the expected speed increase between Budapest and Székesfehérvár, and the purchase of new locomotives it could all change in a few years.

Öskü, 29 December 2020 11:43 - The bends winding between the low hills are so long that just by walking to another nearby location, trains coming from the opposite direction can also be photographed in excellent lighting conditions. There is no complaint about the diversity either, the background here for instance is provided by a distinctive pine tree and the military shooting range with the Eastern Bakony rising above it. The picture shows Göcsej IC 967 running between Zalaegerszeg and Budapest with a multi-purpose IC+ and three Halberstadt carriages behind Dombóvár’s 1072 Szili.

Öskü, 29 December 2020 11:55 – The Class 242 locomotive (nicknamed Plehács) used by Slovakian Petrolsped is one of the weaker freight locomotives, only capable of delivering 3080 kW of power, which is about half of the previously seen Vectron’s or Phoenix’s numbers. It climbs the 8 ‰ slope slower and noisier, but not like it’s delivering marshmallows: the steel coils made at the ironworks of Eastern Slovakia departed from Enyicke station, near Košice, and they’re heading to Koper, Slovenia. As the Plehács is an AC system locomotive, it only forwards the wagons between Hidasnémeti and Hodos. The tiny grey and yellow blocks rising above the hills in the background are Várpalota’s blocks of flats.

Kolontár, December 29, 2020 13:14 - Precisely ten years ago, Kolontár gained unwanted national recognition thanks to the Ajka alumina plant accident. The alkaline, corrosive sludge erupting from reservoir number 10 of the Ajka alumina factory flooded the deeper parts of the village and also destroyed the railway. The surroundings of the railway stop has completely changed since. In place of the demolished homes, a livestock compound and a household goods factory were established. The damaged bridge of the Torna stream was dismantled and a completely new one has been built instead. The train stop has also been restored, but for a few years no passenger trains stop here. The bus transport from Kolontár to Devecser and Ajka is excellent, but Veszprém or Celldömölk is harder to reach this way for the people of Kolontár. Daily passenger train number 9015 running between Szombathely and Veszprém speeds past the village without stopping. Photographed by Attila Láber

Kolontár, December 29, 2020 13:17 - The red sludge disaster claimed ten lives and was accompanied by significant material and environmental damage. The house standing on this plot had to be demolished as well, but this barn next to it was kept as a memento. The doorway has been reinforced, but the traces of the red flood could not be removed from the walls.

Devecser, Szentkút, December 29, 2020 14:42 - Leaving the Bakony region, the railway reaches a flat land near Devecser, namely the Marcal Basin which is the southernmost region of the Little Hungarian Plain (Kisalföld). In addition to the Bakony and Göcsej InterCity trains which run alternately every hour, the state railway also managed to condense some passenger trains into the schedule. These extra trains with two carriages mostly run completely empty, their long waiting times at the stations show that they even interfere with each other, while also slowing down freight traffic during the day.

Devecser, Szentkút, December 29, 2020 15:20 - Designated parking space by the reeds, near Szentkút in Devecser… This place is really lacking an additional sign, as the direction of parking is not completely clear. The holy well (Szentkút) of Devecser remained intact during the 2010 Ajka alumina plant accident, in which many see a celestial sign. Nearby residents come here regularly for fresh springwater and also hold a village fair here once a year.

Ajka, December 29, 2020 15:45 – After long agony, the alumina plant in Ajka was permanently closed this year, but the neighbouring Bakony Power Plant is still indispensable due to the district heating of the nearby housing estates. The logs arrive at the plant next-door from the surrounding forests by road, then in the form of woodchips they travel to the biomass-fired block on the conveyor belt seen in the picture. Still, but nowadays very rarely coal is also brought here by rail. The wagons are emptied on the dump visible in the background and moved around by the power plant's own locomotives. A26 018 seen here set-aside is inoperable, A26 010 stored somewhere further back is used for shunting.

Ajka, Csingervölgy, December 29, 2020 16:00 - The memories of legendary chartered trains, a steam locomotive on exhibition, and a lifeless track – that's what’s left of the Csingervölgy spur line winding between the homes of miners and deep in the woods. It did not manage to become Ajka's excursion railway, but at least the steamer named Csingervölgy was brought home here and got renovated with the help of railway fans and parochialists. This steam engine was built in 1890 at the Vienna Locomotive Factory, and until 1935 it worked on the railway network of the Ajka Coal Mines. Due to its unique construction, it was neither put into a locomotive class, nor given a track number. It is now standing alone at the edge of the forest again, with the last freight train of the line carrying manganese ore being gone over the summer of 2016.

Ajka, December 29, 2020 4:23 PM - It's getting dark early, but it's not cold outside; many people are roaming the streets of the city. The station however is completely extinct, the driver of the Phoenix also left some time ago. We have already seen the car-transport train of DB Cargo under the church of Öskü, but despite all efforts, the Slovenian companion railway could not take it over, so it is forced to wait here for a longer period of time. We were later informed that the train only continued its journey on January 3.

Ajka, December 29, 2020 4:25 PM - The chimneys of the long-established lead glass factory are still standing, but the large piles of demolition debris pushed together by machines signal that the end is near. This year has taken a toll on Ajka; after the loss of its coal mines and alumina-factory, the former industrial city is now also saying goodbye to its glass factory. There is also some railway waste outside the factory gate, there could even be some debris amongst it from Kolontár. Nevertheless, the track maintenance railbus is readily waiting for the next working day. Because there is always a new day, a new year, and there is not much left of this one anyway. No new glass factory has been built in Ajka, but a smaller workshop was founded recently in the neighboring Halimba. And although the name Halimba Crystal is sounding a bit foreign at this point, the glassblowers certainly don’t mind.