Stretching through a lovely patch of quiet Hungarian forest, the Gyermekvasút rail line would seem to be just another peaceful sightseeing rail line were it not for the captain and crew being exclusively underage.
Following in the footsteps of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, Hungary first conceived of a railway staffed by children all the way back in 1947. As opposed to a strange governmental child labor scheme, the project was seen as a way of training young men and women important trade skills and as an honorable position to take pride in. When the rail line first rumbled to life it consisted of three passenger lines which were nearly an instant hit, filling with passengers each day it ran. The popularity of the line continued for decades before the lure of tourism abroad pulled attention away from the kiddie-staffed train lines.
It wasn’t until 1990 that the railway regained its former glory. As Hungary pulled itself out of a Communist regime, eyes and thoughts began turning to domestic tourism again and the old Pioneer’s Railway seemed like just the thing. The lines and train cars were refurnished in the ensuing years and the name was officially changed to Gyermekvasút (translated as “Children’s Railway”), a monicker that had always been unofficially associated with the train. This time the emphasis was less on getting locals from one place to another, and was changed to attracting tourists would come to see the child workers and enjoy the ride for the natural beauty the trains passed through. The gamble worked making the train one of the more popular attractions in the area.
Currently the Gyermekvasút is the world’s largest child’s railway in the world.
Know Before You Go
In early December, the railway offers a St. Nicolas “Szent Mikulas” train ride for three-days. Children dressed as St. Nick's helpers lead songs and games in each train car (in Hungarian), while St. Nick visits each train car to deliver a bag of candy to each child. The train cars are decorated with Christmas lights. The train ride lasts about 40 minutes.