Orban can't even make the trains run on time

Orban can't even make the trains run on time
OBB warned its Hungarian peer MAV to address schedule issues as it consistently failed to meet the timetable on the hourly international trains from Budapest to Western Europe. / bne IntelliNews
By Tamas Csonka in Budapest October 2, 2023

Austrian state railway company OBB has cut Hungary off from direct services to Western Europe due to regular delays on the Budapest-Vienna line, a further blow to the Ministry of Transport, which is overburdened by maintenance work on main railway lines.

The OBB warned its Hungarian peer MAV to address schedule issues as it had failed to meet the timetable on the hourly international trains from Budapest to Western Europe.

From October 2, railjets departing from Budapest and bound to Linz, Salzburg and Munich will stop in Vienna, which means that Hungarians travelling further need to change trains in the Austrian capital. Railjet trains to Hungary will continue to run on their full routes, according to the statement.

Renovation work on a 29km section of the Budapest-Vienna line, which passes through central Hungary, commenced in mid-September and is projected to continue until mid-December. The deteriorated condition of the track, which is one of the busiest in Hungary, had led to the imposition of speed limits of 100 km/h. These have led to 20-30-minute delays, which increased further with the closure of one track, creating a bottleneck.

MAV argued that meeting OBB's requests would have disproportionately impacted domestic transportation. Replacement buses on the section ongoing reconstruction were put into use, but these did not affect international travel, it added.

According to pundits, MAV has breached EU guidelines pertaining to track renewal.

The maintenance work began overnight; however, according to EU directives, track maintenance that affects more than 30% of traffic and last longer than 7 days must be announced two years in advance. The regulation also compels MAV to consult freight forwarders and its peers in advance.

MAV has contracts with 53 freight companies, so the Czech and Austrian railway companies were right to expect to be informed of the limited use of the track for a prolonged period.

Transportation issues were delegated to Fidesz strongman Janos Lazar in 2022, after his comeback to national politics after four years. The former head of the Prime Minister's Office stepped back or was forced to step back by Prime Miniister Viktor Orban after his humiliating loss in a mayoral by-election to Peter Marki-Zay in 2018, who four years later run was the joint prime minister candidate of the joint opposition.

Lazar inherited a state-owned giant, the largest employer in the country, after the MAV merged with state-coaching company Volanbusz, leading to competition issues.  The merger was aimed at coordinating intercity traffic and reducing parallel lines. While Volanbusz is renewing its fleet, that can not be said of MAV. Despite EU funds going to track renovations and fleet renewal, state railway company MAV is lagging behind its peers even in Central Europe.

Delays are just regular on suburban lines and smaller lines. Few companies have the expertise in renewing railway tracks. One of them is RM International, the company owned by billionaire Lorinc Meszaros, close to Orban.

Local media reported last week that the upgrade of the Budapest-Belgrade railway line came to a standstill as the Chinese constructor has been unable to supply the security system required to meet EU standards. Its Hungarian partner has withdrawn from the construction site and sent staff and machinery for the reconstruction of the Budapest-Vienna line.



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