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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Hungarian Rhapsody

Quite some time ago our family engaged an au pair to live with us in Oxfordshire after we moved to the UK from New York. Fortuitiously our new 'helper' came from Hungary and the easternmost city of that country - Debrecen, which lies near to the Ukraine and Carpathian Mountains. Invited to visit our au pair and his family on a business trip to Budapest I took the opportunity to head due east by train. Debrecen has its own history and in particular was the location of the Hungarian railway locomotive works (a sort of Crewe in mitteleuropa). The town's football team is familiarly known as the 'Lokis' being originally formed by workers at the locomotive plant. Later in Soviet times - it became an official team of the national football league.

Debrecen had one remaining tram service at the time of my visit (during the '90s) and uniquely had purchased a batch of distinctive Ganz articulated units which came with most unusual pink and baby blue interiors. Several of the 1950s 'Bengali' articulated types, I believe second hand from Budapest, also held down the trunk service, whilst a few two axle and trailer types could also be seen. Some conversion from tram to trolleybus had taken place in previous years but the main route from the railway station to a large public park on the periphery of the line was retained as it had reserved track sections.

I suspect by now the Ganz models have been surplanted by common garden products from the usual light rail purveyors - and the distinctive character of the Debrecen system has morphed into another light rail makeover. But my visit afforded chance to sample a post communist central european tramway not on the usual enthusiast 'must visit' trail. Below - Some souvenir 'snaps from Debrecen :

The town centre railway station terminus of the tram service 1 : (shades of North Station). An old two car set on an extra working alongside one of the Ganz models unique to Debrecen.

At the outer terminus of Service 1 with a nocturnal journey and the Author nonchalontly posed for the record with 507 (and lady driver) :

The impressive main church - a religious landmark in eastern Hungary, dominates the main street of the town and provides this backdrop to yet another Ganz model.

Below : the Hungarian articulated design of the 1960s familiarly known as 'Bengali' and now long withdrawn since this visit. A nighttime view with a rainswept main street encounter. All images : John Woodman

It should be noted all the trams were kept in good external condition with smart paintwork throughout.

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