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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 25:83–93.


The Situation of Transport in Hungary at the Time of Accession to the European Union


The aims of the Hungarian development of transport are basically determined by the following in the medium as well as longer term:

– The geographic position of the country,

– The present condition of Hungarian transport and telecommunications, its backwardness compared to the current level of the EU, and our possibilities,

– New technical opportunities realised in the development of transport in a globalising world, and the transport policy concept of the EU deducted from it.


The geographic position of the country

The country is located in the geographic middle of Europe. Its territory is relatively flat. Entry and exit to the Carpathian Basin are possible along the valleys of the Rivers Danube, Dráva, Morava and Maros. The narrowest negotiable part of the Carpathian Mountains offers crossing towards Ukraine (and Russia). Considering the articulation of the boundaries of Europe and its high mountains the natural ground transport corridors are of east-west and north-south orientation.

The geographic position asserts itself in the long run, but it is the momentary economic or political situation that may even cause fundamental changes in the short run.

The Hungarian transport policy considers its primary task to build a decisive part of the speedways inside the country and the western connections up to 2008, and the development of part of the eastern connections after 2008.

The railway lines would essentially follow their original track but the speed that may be reached along the rails would be between 100 and 160 km/h instead of the present limitations.

The present situation of Hungarian transport

The condition of the Hungarian transport and telecommunications, and the characteristics of the more important output are summarised by Tables 1 and 2, giving figures for 1980 and for the years after the change of the system up to 2000. Due to the transformation of the economic structure accompanying the change of the system and the temporary setback of economic output both goods as well as passenger transport have significantly decreased. The deepest point of goods transport output was reached in 1993 and 1994, and slow increase may be experienced ever since, in full harmony with the growth of the per capita national income. The various branches of transport have had different behaviour during the course of changes. Rail goods transport has been stagnating and road transport has been dynamically growing.


Table 1. Data of Hungarian goods transport

Goods transport (thousand million ton goods/km)




Rail transport




Road transport




Of which:
transport organisations
non-transport organisations
small transport entrepreneurs




Water transport




Air transport




Other (transport by pipeline)









Table 2. Data of Hungarian passenger transport

Passenger transport (thousand million passenger km)




Interurban railway transport




Interurban road transport




Local road and closed track local transport




Of which:
transport organisations non-transport organisations
small transport entrepreneurs




Water transport













In passenger transport it is again the share of road transport that has been growing.

The structural transformation of the economy is also indicated by changes in the transport infrastructure. (Table 3) Besides the decrease of the rolling stock of railways the number of road vehicles has been almost doubled. The length of motorways and motor roads is more than 2.5 times the length in the 1980s. The number of main telephone lines has grown five times and the number of cell phones is approximating seven million.


Table 3. Changes of the transport infrastructure

Vehicles and infrastructure




Railway haul vehicle (pieces)




Motor engine (pieces)




Motor train (pieces)




Passenger- carriage (pieces)




Goods wagon (pieces)




Proportion of electrified network (%)




Stock of road vehicles (thousand pieces)




Personal cars (thousand pieces)




Buses (thousand pieces)




Lorries (thousand pieces)




Length of motorways (km)




Length of motor roads (km)




Share of motorways and motor roads (%)




Number of passenger boats (pieces)




Number of tug and towboats (pieces)




Number of barges (pieces)




Aircraft (pieces)




Total of seats in aircraft




Length of air routes (km)




Length of telephone lines (thousand wkm)



Total of main phone stations
(thousand pieces)




Main phone stations per 100 inhabitants




Number of subscribers for public purpose cell phones (thousand)





In addition to the figures in the Tables the following may be stated about Hungarian transport:

– Investment into transport significantly grew by the late 90s, calculated at current prices, and reached 8 to 9 % of the investment of the national economy but did not reach 1% of the GDP as recommended by the EU to the Member States.

– The stock of vehicles and tracks has been hardly modernised. The average age of the railway rolling stock is above 20 years, despite the significant reduction of the stock itself. The average age of personal cars, lorries, and buses is still above 10 years. Permanent speed limit has to be set for a significant part of the rail network. The condition of the road network, primarily of the local and linking roads is accident-risky because of inadequate renewals.

– The number of personnel employed by the big companies has been greatly reduced while the number of small private transport entrepreneurs has significantly grown.

– The share of road transport in the division of labour has grown to 60% of goods and 84% of passengers. The proportion of goods and passenger transport by rail is 27% and 11 % respectively, as against the 14 and 6% of the EU Member States.

– The share of public transport has decreased in our cities (for instance, in Budapest the share of public transport was 82% in the late 1980s, whereas in 2000 it was only 60%). The postponement of the renewal of the stock of vehicles and of the network, together with a decreasing density of service due to financing difficulties further strengthen the unfavourable process.

– The output of navigation has significantly decreased partly due to the ever stronger decline in marine navigation and currently it reaches only 4% of the total cargo transport and has been totally receding in passenger transport. The South-Slav war had also hit navigation to a large extent.

– In aviation the Soviet-made aircraft were replaced by more modern Western types and passenger transport has been trebled in comparison to 1980, the reception building of Ferihegy Airport was renewed and expanded.

– The share of combined cargo transport (road and rail, road and boat) does not reach 5 to 6% in the system of Hungarian transport, primarily because of the lack of the network of logistics centres (reloading possibilities).

– The accident safety of road transport spectacularly improved between 1987 and 2000, fatal road accidents per 100 thousand inhabitants dropped from 24 to 12, demonstrably due to the use of low-beam headlights during daytime and to the 50 km/h speed limit in inhabited areas. The result approximates the EU average, but the transport policy concept of the EU envisages a further 50% reduction.

– Environmental damages deriving from the lack of the development (modernisation) of the transport system (track deficiencies, ageing of the stock of vehicles, shortcomings of logistics, traffic organisation and management, careless operation, etc.) are close to the scale of HUF one hundred thousand million per year (even with cautious estimate). Their avoidance is often more effective by a well considered policy or financial measure than looking for a complicated technical solution.

Moving ahead primarily depends on the economic situation of the country but also on evolving spontaneous processes. Spontaneous changes regrettably show that the proportion of road and raid transport would shift to the roads in Hungary, similarly to the entire EU, in the future.

The Hungarian transport network, focused on Budapest, would cause serious traffic difficulties with a major growth of traffic in the future without roads and railways bypassing the capital, and in some periods this is already the case. In the future the building of bypassing tracks should be accorded priority.

New trends in the development of transport technology

Four negative qualities of the 21st-century transport determine the tasks of the sustainable development of transport in the area of vehicles, tracks and the management of traffic, such as:

– Crowd, congestion,

– The incompatibility of the biological characteristics of travelling man and speed and acceleration that may be reached by transport,

– Waste of material and energy,

– Environmental pollution.

Currently about 700 to 800 million vehicles participate in transport in the world. This is an amazing number by itself, but nowadays it is sensed as relative local traffic jams. The several hundred million vehicles are usually concentrated at certain periods the day and locations (rush hours, city centres, motorways). Traffic jams develop instead of the flow of transport, while the vehicles continue to consume energy and pollute (even in concentration) the environment (smog-catastrophes).

The vehicles and motorways allow for an ever growing speed and acceleration. The biological characteristics of drivers have developed to their present level, adjusted to the average speed and acceleration of the human being during millions of years. Sensing and a delay of reaction to act in the case of danger oscillate around the biologically permissible value, a modern vehicle, however, may cover as much as 100 metres during that time. Neither the unqualified private driver nor the pedestrian is able to adjust to a modern vehicle. It is not accidental that annually forty thousand people die on roads in the EU (in Hungary there are 1200 fatal casualties per year).

The material and energy consumption of transport is wasteful to an unprecedented extent. The energy utilisation of road transport is below 10%. Not even 50% of the materials built into the vehicles would be recycled. The various branches of transport are wasteful to different degrees, the most wasteful one is aviation, and the most economical one is navigation (naturally, their speed is different). The direct consequence of wasted material and energy is environmental pollution. Not only the vehicles themselves but the transporters of vehicles also pollute the environment. The tracks are also destructive for they partition natural habitats, cause inbreeding, and cover the earth with concrete and asphalt instead of vegetation.

The negative effects of transport stipulate the developmental tasks, such as: avoidance of accidents, improvement of the useful effect of energy utilisation and new energy resources, reduction of the use of new natural materials and reuse, reduction of environmental pollution.

The solution of the task requires development that would consider every side of transport (including economic, legal and educational points as well). An „intelligent” vehicle and „intelligent” track can yield real improvement only if the vehicles, tracks, signalisation, further on logistics and legal regulations are not developed independently of one another, but if harmony is also created among them. This harmonisation has to be extended from the transport system to companies co-operating in industry and services as well. A hitherto unprecedented co-operation, and paradoxically competition, too, is needed to the solution of the four tasks mentioned above, to the achievement of a sustainable transport in a globalising world. This development is only made possible by informatics.

Informatics has become an indispensable part of research and development, planning and manufacturing, and even of operation by today. The breaks, steering, ignition and acceleration, the supply of fuel are electronically controlled. Second-generation vehicles, governed by onboard computer, were developed out of the integration of those separate elements. These vehicles can be monitored and directed through satellite, the computer centres may optimise the logistics tasks, choosing minimum cost of transport, or the shortest time-span, and even the moderation of environmental pollution as objective functions. Third-generation transport informatics thus evolved may be further developed by adding the observation of the immediate environment and the „on-line” management of transport operation added to it (fourth generation) in the future.


The concept of transport policy of the EU

The White Paper, published in September 2001, summarises the concept (philosophy) of transport policy of the EU.

The document focuses on man participating in transport, enjoying its advantages, or suffering from its harmful effects. The reduction of the number of accidents (particularly the fatal ones), an increased sparing of nature and of the built environment, strengthening the servicing nature of transport, and the protection of its participants are indispensable to the development and maintenance of transport. In order to achieve it every necessary legal and economic regulation and technical development has to be utilised so that the currently existing differences among the various EU countries should disappear within a foreseeable time.

The White Paper accords special attention to the elimination of traffic jams and obstacles causing great economic losses and environmental pollution. The bottlenecks of transport may not only be caused by natural obstacles (the Alps, the Pyrenees), but artificial ones as well (such as big cities wedged in the transport corridors, state borders ruling changes in the mode of operation). This is particularly conspicuous in railway transport, for currently there are three different gauges and five different electrical traction systems in Europe. Their smooth co-operation is not only a technical task but requires a uniform legal regulation and coordinated logistics as well. This aim is served by the “Galileo” traffic control programme based on GPS, launched in 2001. The system is expected to be operational by 2008.

The transport policy concept of the EU, differently from the approach of earlier periods, does not only cover the 25 Member States, but  acknowledges the fact of globalisation and takes into account transport and delivery tasks also that are directed outside the Member States. It considers relations with the East (Russia, Ukraine, etc.) and the Mediterranean region (Middle East, North Africa), besides the Trans-Atlantic connections, too. The assertion of the uniform outlook of the EU besides the views of the various Member States in the different international organisations (aviation, navigation, railways) is regarded as a central task (currently it has only an observer status).

The tariffs of transport calculated on the basis of the current regulations does not consider the cost of damages and accidents, the damages caused to the natural and built environment and that of the changes of climate. The latter ones (externals) are paid for by the society as a whole, though the different branches of transport waste community money very differently. Tariffs based on real cost should be uniformly introduced in Europe to revitalise railways and the externals thus obtained should be spent on the development of the transport infrastructure.

The development of transport is extremely costly, and the investments of the private sphere will also be needed besides the Community resources (Public, Private Partnership = PPP).

It can be stated that the Community management of transport is rather backward in comparison to a plethora of legal, economic and political regulations. Yet this fact is advantageous to us, because we have to accede to a currently evolving transport system instead of a mature and developed one, and the opinion of the new Member States would have to be taken into consideration in its shaping.


Some tasks for development

The present state of Hungarian transport, technical development that can be experienced in the developed industrial countries and the transport policy concept of the EU unambiguously outline the tasks for the development of domestic transport, too. The order and phasing of development, their weighting is a function of the capability of the Hungarian economy. Naturally, the reverse of this statement is also valid: the capability of the Hungarian economy depends on the level of development of domestic transport and its alignment to Europe to a very great extent.

Below, without claiming totality, some developmental tasks are highlighted the solution of which are usually not accounted for by political public opinion because the spectacular tasks of building the transport corridors crossing the country cover them up.


General transport development

– Sustainable mobility requires the improvement of access from the adjoining regions when the main networks are planned for the development of the transport infrastructure, together with building the services promoting undisturbed traffic.

– The organisation of the operation and logistics of the networks is a task on par with their building, together with enhancing the social efficiency of transport.

– Preparations are needed for the mutual use of transport networks among the EU Member States, for the introduction of inter-operability (for instance, to co-ordinate the different systems of electric traction), and multi-modality (possibility of choice among the different branches of transport, combined modes of operation).

– The creation of sustainable mobility in the Central European countries largely depends on the development of the Hungarian transport infrastructure and on the realisation of its Euro-compatibility because of our geo-political conditions. This fact makes the development of the segments of transit traffic networks and the expansion of border-crossing capacities.

– A complex, systemic development of the Hungarian offer of transit transport is an opportunity to break through for the development of the entire economy and it represents significant value for the European Union as well. As a result Hungary may become an important Euro-logistics centre between the EU and the Balkans as well as Ukraine (Russia).

– In addition to the technical side of the development of transport safety the modernisation of traffic regulations and legal norms and monitoring of their observance, the possible sanctioning of their violation are of equal importance, together with shaping the behaviour of the participants of transport.

– The integrated building of regional Community transport systems is becoming increasingly important, and tariff associations should be established that allow for the use of several modes of transport under identical conditions.


Railway transport infrastructure

In addition to the limited domestic resources some EU Community financing may be hoped for to the performance of this developmental task. Some internal changes, however, are indispensable to the granting of that subsidy, such as:

– For the railways the track operation, cargo and passenger transport have to be legally, organisationally and economically separated. The latter two tasks will have to be made totally free for the transporters of the EU up to 2008.

– The conditions of the operation of sidelines of little use have to be solved. The sidelines truncated by the Trianon Peace Treaty should acquire new regional tasks with the decreasing role of country borders within the Union. Some of the sidelines could continue operation after they are transferred to regional (urban, community) ownership. Finally, the traffic of some sidelines should be totally stopped, but in those cases adequate supplementary transport modes should be arranged for.


Development of the infrastructure of road transport

The use of modern means of informatics in logistics, traffic organisation, management and control is of equal importance in perspective to the construction of motorways and motor roads figuring in the governmental programmes as priority tasks (Galileo programme):

– The modern telematics systems, such as the GPS systems significantly increase the standard of traffic organisation and management, and hence also the safety of transport regarding the global as well as regional traffic.

– Information technology development has a prominent role in the transport of dangerous substances as well.

– The Computer and Automation Research Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the KNORR Bremse and the Budapest University of Technology and Economics have begun a promising joint development in the interest of the introduction of satellite navigation (GPS) systems and its linkages to logistics, freight organisation and safety technology.


Development of aviation and inland navigation

The development of aviation and inland navigation is inseparable from the pan-European developments and it is in fact totally governed by force. Two tasks, however, are worth mentioning, such as:

– Improvement of the many-sided access to airports (for instance a rapid train to Ferihegy),

– Making River Danube navigable throughout the year (or at least for 11 months).


Closing words

Making Hungarian transport Euro-compatible is a rather difficult task, for lags of several decades have to be eliminated in its details, and the condition of certain elements of the transport infrastructure is in a very bad shape. At the same time the transport system of the EU, despite intensive development by some Member States, is lagging behind the globalising developed world because of decisions procrastinated for years.

Many highly qualified experts are needed to development who are capable of comprehending every aspect of transport, and capital is required to its financing that is currently missing in the country. (According to the data of the White Paper about 400 thousand million euros are needed to the building of the TEN up to 2010. The calculated cost of the modernisation of the Hungarian railway network is 10 thousand million euros, and the development of the TINA lines would require 10 thousand million euros.)

At the same time, the development of transport offers a great opportunity to the vitalisation of the economy, too. The building and modernisation of networks create several million jobs in Europe. The emerging situation recalls the economic boom caused by the feverish railway constructions of the 19th century. Stone, wood, iron and steel were needed to the building of railways. They had to be produced somewhere and next they had to be transported to their places of processing and use at the construction, which required the development of further lines. More railway lines further enhanced the number of primary producer and manufacturing companies and offered more tasks of shipment. The transport and industry of the 19th century created a so-called regulatory circle of positive feedback. The transport and industry of the 21st century show a different relationship, for the extensive period of industrial development is over. Currently the growth of the output of goods transport is somewhat lagging behind the growth rate of the GDP (though passenger transport consistently shows a larger growth than the GDP). The heroic age of railway construction is over, and the current developments do not increase the constantly growing volume of shipment by scales, they do not multiply the number of mines, metallurgical and engineering companies, and there is a shift to intensive development from an extensive one.

The emergence and development of the car industry had some extensive features in the early 20th century, but the development of aviation industry in the middle of the century has rather been the consequence of research and scientific thinking. The simple 19th-century regulatory circle of industrial development became outdated by the end of the 20th century. The use of computer and the appearance of information technology in research, development, planning and manufacture, and even in operation have transformed the traditional car manufacturing industry as well.

The task of the 21st century is the realisation of an intelligent and sustainable transport. It would require integrated and efficient IT regulatory means capable of monitoring the process of transport and the actual condition of vehicles and track. A large part of those means is not yet at our disposal, more over, the issues to be regulated are not yet clarified to a significant extent. It depends on us whether we would participate in their creation and wording, or would be satisfied with the role of a passive user.



1. White Paper. European transport policy for 2010: time to decide. Commission of the European Communities, Brussels, 12.09.2001.

2. Erdősi, Ferenc: Európa közlekedése és a regionális fejlődés (Transport of Europe and Regional Development). Dialog Campus Kiadó, Budapest–Pécs, 2000.

3. Mezei, István (Ed.): Az Európai Unió és a vasutak (The European Union and the Railways). MÁV-Rt. Vezérigazgatóság, Budapest, 2003.

4. Glatz, Ferenc (Ed.): Közlekedési rendszerek és infrastruktúrák. Magyarország az ezredfordulón. Stratégiai kutatások a Magyar Tudományos Akadémián (Transport Systems and Infrastructures. Hungary at the Turn of the Millennium. Strategic Researches at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Budapest, 2000. (Papers by: Ruppert, L., Tánczos, L-né, Mészáros, P., Kövesné Gilicze, É., Gordos, G. and Tranai, J.)

5. Magyar közlekedéspolitika 2003–2015. (Hungarian Transport Policy 2003–2015) Manuscript.

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