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Maintaining the Regions A vision for a sustainable public transport system in rural Hungary

In late 2009 passenger transport was suspended on numerous Hungarian railway lines that are nevertheless maintained as many are used for freight transport. During the last week of November some friends of the railways once more set out for the Rail Tour de Hongrie in order to travel around the country close to the borders. This Tour was intended to communicate how rail transport in rural Hungary could be turned into a sustainable option as part of an integrated transport system with regular timetables. Presently the lack of a viable transport policy causes a dramatic drop in the modal split share of public transport. International attention shows that such decisions are not purely a regional or national affair. A dense and well-maintained rail network is in the interest of all of Europe, and in the Carpathian Basin in particular many cross-border connections once cut off should be re-established so that regions with a shared history, culture and economy can once again grow together.

The undersigned professional organisations, NGOs, companies and private persons stress that the present suspensions are a counterproductive measure which in the present extent and at this time only seemingly has something to do with reforming rail transport. They argue for the case of effective progress in rural transport, including modernisation and long-term transport policy in real terms. Cutting back the rail network to such an extent is at the same time a highly symbolic matter and a critical issue in terms of the sustainability of railway operations. Railways are a complex system, both State Railways and the Ministry of Transport lack transparency. Under the given circumstances, even based on the limited amount of reliable statistics and information it seems very likely that suspensions will cause a loss to the state budget already in the medium term. In areas where a significant potential for savings can be located, the present government did not dare to instigate orderliness and efficiency, if necessary even against particular interests. In late 2009 virtually all measures of railway reform discussed and announced during the summer have been postponed and left to the next government, except for suspending passenger transport on 24 lines. Only a realistic programme of restructuring and development could attain a trend reversal in modal split development, next to maintaining and creating workplaces in the sector by increasing the share of public transport.

In Hungary many regional and feeder lines have been neglected for decades now and trains only run thanks to the conscious, dedicated work of railway people. We cannot accept that central government decides on our lines based on their present shape, with no regard to their present and potential significance for the affected regions, without a careful study of the potential in case of renewal and modernisation, and without reparation of historic debts. If one should ask the people many are inclined to opt for the railways if there was an expedient level of service.

We ask for the development of rural public transport to be made a top priority of the next government cycles, taking care of the entire mobility chain within a purposeful, integrative transport system. We therefore acclaim the intention of the present opposition to reactivate railway lines "where technically possible". Passenger transport should be resumed where reasonable, even on lines suppressed in 2007. We ask for the legal framework in view of creating regional integrated transport systems to be elaborated and for appropriation of funds for infrastructure development priorities based on a sound professional planning. These measures are intended to serve the purposes of environmental and climate protection as well as transport safety and the prevention of excessive damage to the road system. Last but not least a country with a well-functioning regional public transport system will be less exposed to the impending energy crisis and will be able to maintain a more healthy balance between the central capital region and rural regions.

Hungary, November 2009

Those who would like to solidarise themselves with Hungarian travellers, activists and railwaypeople are invited to mail a brief statement of suport to vasut at kteam hu. Please state:
- organisation, homepage, representant(s);
- or if you are a private person: name, domicile (profession, homepage).
List of signatories, see Hungarian version.