To avoid the new sophisticated supplements, if travelling frequently in Hungary, consider a VIP or Prémium Card: no supplements, optional free IC seat reservation. No far-distance supplements apply to Start Klub card holders either. Or purchase an international ticket for your entire trip even though still slightly more expensive than a domestic ticket with supplement.
Would you like to arrive at your destination in the quickest and most comfortable way possible? Then choose the speedy, modern EuroCity and InterCity trains. If travelling further than Budapest, it may be a good idea to purchase an international ticket just to the Hungarian capital and then get your cheaper onward ticket from there. Or even change trains at the border and continue on a domestic ticket. At rush hours in Budapest, reckon on being caught in a queue at the ticket counter and remember to include time in case you need to cross the city (by metro, bus or taxi) to make your connection at another station. Next to a domestic ticket EC/IC trains require a supplement and usually, compulsory seat reservation. When purchasing a domestic ticket, mention the exact route and time of departure, and name the IC train you intend to board. If possible check the available trains online at home and make your choice, or consult with officers of the international ticket counter or the VIP Lounge, to make sure you know the transport titles required and thus avoid fines on the train. You may book your IC supplement by phone, in Hungary at 06-40-49 49 49 or from abroad at +36-1-371 94 49. You also must purchase a supplement for these trains if you are entitled to free rail transport (e.g. EU citizens above 65).
Do you fancy a romantic train trip on a tight budget? Then plan your journey on the side branches of Hungarian railways using the slower trains. On standard and narrow gauge lines you can explore hills and valleys, or take a stretch across the endless puszta lands of grassy plains. And remember, the bus will bring you to all those nooks that the train does not reach. (Sorry to say, there are still not many quality links between train and bus services, and in 2012 rural train services in particular were thinned out.)
Despite significant investment the average age of the rolling stock is well over the Western European average. It is also high time for many of the stations to be renovated, but keep your eyes open for the splendid sight of those dating from the time of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy that already have been refurbished to an exemplary standard. Many of the lines are well over 100 years old and are threatened as a result of current transport policy and decades of neglect. In spite of all this Hungarian Railways boast an excellent safety record.
As the old carriages are not air conditioned in case of hot weather it may be worth getting up early. In the cold season the heating does not always work properly - much of the time those older carriages are too hot and only opening the window or at least the compartement door will help. At night you may have a hard time to track travel progress because of poorly lit and signposted stations, or because of tarnished windows. In such a case share your destination in time with the conductor or a local fellow traveller for them to advert you when to get off, and note exact times of arrival particular for night rides.
The entire train network is organised around the city of Budapest and generally you will reach your destination quickly from the capital, or find that you best travel through Budapest to arrive in your place of choice. In 1921 due to the border modification and loss of two-thirds of their territory, the outer rail rings linking large peripheral cities were also cut off. It still can be more difficult and slower to travel between towns and cities in the countryside. Unfortunately, few of these cut off lines to cities and towns outside the border have been reinstated as yet. Slovakia, Croatia and Italy recently abandoned many rail links with Hungary. Thus there are hardly any places where it would make sense to cross over to Slovakia, Romania or Serbia in order to reach destinations near the border once linked by railway.
The most important rules on tariff, supplements and reductions:
* The base tariff (full price) applies to all passengers from age 14 not entitled to a discount. The cheapest ticket is issued for 10km, until 50km there are 5km leaps, 50–100: 10km leaps, 100–300: 20km leaps, 300–500: 50km leaps, and MÁV's counter stops at 500 kilometres. Above 500 a rail trip could only get more expensive if it crosses the MÁV–GYSEV network border and therefore the route is cut into separately calculated GYSEV and MÁV sections.
* Children age 0-6 and EU citizens above age 65 can ride for free, but they have to pay for supplements and compulsory seat reservation. Besides that there is no general discount for the retired. (Those entitled to a Hungarian pension, as well as public servants receive a form entitling them to a certain number of discounted rides.) * 33% reduction: 1-2 adults accompanying at least 1 child under age 18; youth under age 26 only Fri to Sun.
* 50% reduction: children age 6 to 14, pupils and students with appropriate student cards; supplements must be paid in full.
* 90% reduction: handycapped and 1 accompanying person, large families (1-2 parents accompanying at least 3 of their own syblings)
* Group discounts apply for at least 10 persons; the more passengers, the greater the discount (20-50%).
* InterCity supplements usually extend to compulsory seat reservation. As of late the supplements are graduated according to distance and travel date: cheaper for shorter distance Mon to Thu and if purchased in advance, and more expensive at peak times and if purchased on the day of validity.
* Beginning with the summer of 2013 supplements also apply to far-distance trains. They actually wanted to generate higher revenues without touching the base price before the upcoming elections. As there is no clear-cut difference between regional and far-distance passenger trains they simply made a number of trains subject to a supplement, even though there is no difference in service level, types of carriage. On several sections regional and far-distance trains run alternately on the same timetable, so on these sections you get exactly the same service every other hour with or without a supplement, the only difference possibly being that if you continue to Budapest you won't have to change trains if paying a supplement, but the supplement also applies to short trips if you happen to show up in the wrong hour...
– Supplement price equals the IC supplement, but no ties to certain trains and no seat reservation possible.
– No supplement if travelling with international ticket, InterRail etc.
– Also applies to passengers under age 6 and to EU citizens above 65, a cheap monthly supplement (1500.- HUF) is available to those two groups.
– MÁV-START Klub card holders do not have to pay supplements for far-distance trains.
– Also applies to far-distance trains within Budapest city boundaries. Commuters using far-distance trains may purchase a 6000.- HUF monthly supplement or an annual Start Klub card to avoid daily purchase of a supplement.
– Holders of a "Balaton Mix" transport titles may use without a supplement far-distance trains running at the banks of the lake, but any applicable supplement must be purchased for the 50% reduced trip to and from Lake Balaton.
Table of supplements (left: supplement for far-distance trains, centre: IC-supplement including seat reservation if purchased in advance for weekday rides, right: IC-supplement for peak times, ordered by phone, or purchased on the day of travel)
To soothe the turmoils accompanying the introduction of far-distance supplements the Ministry successively announced several discounts (ad-hoc decisions, or discounts asked for by the railway but not authorised to date by the Ministry):
* On 15 less frequented sidelines tickets were made 15% cheaper. Map and list of reduced lines, the discount only applies for trips on the particular line, if travelling beyond that line purchase a normal ticket for the entire trip or 2 tickets, a discounted one and a normal one for the remaining section (there is almost no difference).
* 3% discount for online tickets
* Free rail travel within Budapest city boundaries for holders of 50% Start Klub cards
Some of the most characteristic train sets you might encounter:
Bzmot motorcars (Tatra, Studenka, Czechoslovakia - presently the most common train set in rural Hungary, called "Piroska" just as MDmot trains)
Siemens DESIRO (Budapest-Esztergom)
Talent railcar from Bombardier
FLIRT railcar (Stadler, Switzerland) in Győr and here in Sárbogárd with veteran Btx016
BDVmot electric trainset (made in Hungary, to be seen around Budapest mainly)
Intercity Claudius with Siemens TAURUS engine (engine nickname: Teknős/Turtle; waggons from GySEV and MÁV)
M41 "Csörgő/Rattle" - Hungary's most common Diesel engine - here a few pics with passenger trains in Northeastern Hungary
MDmot "piroska" train ("little red riding hood" - a rather common sight in much of Southern and Eastern Hungary)
"Uzsgyi" or "Tégla/Brick" Bpmot railcars (Metrovagonmas, Russia - delivered as a compensation for Russian debts to Hungary, they run e.g. from Hatvan to Salgótarján and in Southern Hungary)
Motorcars and railcars in Hungary yesterday and today (fabulous pics, text in Hungarian)