From the 18th century, Pest increasingly became a commercial centre, and this gradually strengthened during the reform era. However, from the point of view of trade, the transport capacities that had been available up until then - namely the ships - became less and less sufficient, even though at that time, in the middle of the 1840s, steamboats had been regularly plying the Danube for nearly a decade. The main product was Great Plain grain, which had to be transported somehow.

The locomotive named Nádor (the István locomotive was also similar) (Photo: Wikipedia)

The important domestic trade routes were determined by law, and the 25th Act of 1836 precisely determined where the railways should go:

"1. From Pest to Vienna to the Austrian border; 2. From Pest to the Hungarian sea coast; 3. From Pest to Zimony; 4. From Pest to the edge of Moravia and Silesia; 5. From Pest to the border of Galicia; 6. From Pest to Transylvania, towards Cluj-Napoca; 7. From Pest to Transylvania, towards Sibiu; 8. From Vienna, and from the borders of Austria on the one hand to the Hungarian sea coast, on the other to Osijek, and so on to Turkey; 9. From Vienna and from the borders of Austria through Hungary to Krakow; 10. From Trnava to Košice; 11. From Košice to Krakow; 12. From Miskolc towards Galicia and Russia; 13. From Sisak to the Hungarian sea coast."

The first direction was therefore the Pest-Vienna route, but several important planned railways led to the east.

In the 1840s, two groups of capitalists planned to build railway lines, one of which was led by Viennese banker György Sina, who was supported in many other investments by his business partner István Széchenyi. However, in this case, Széchenyi's idea did not prevail, as the Parliament granted the right to another interest group, the Hungarian Central Railway (Magyar Középponti Vasút), a company led by the Pest banker Móric Ullmann. Thus, the Hungarian Central Railway was the first to start building the line leading to Vienna, the first stage of which was the completed railway line to Vác, but almost at the same time, they also started working on the railway line leading east to Szolnok.

The station building in Pest (Source: FSZEK, Budapest Collection)

The line started from the same station in Pest as the one to Vác. Originally, the Pest city leaders requested that the Szolnok railway departs from a different station, because they were afraid that if the trains depart from the same station in different directions, travellers will not spend time in Pest, i.e., they will not spend their money here.

In the end, however, the leaders were reassured, so there was no need to build another station, so from the Pest terminal, which was partly on the site of the current Western (Nyugati) railway station (although, the building reached as far as today's Jókai Street), the trains went through Kőbánya, Vecsés, Üllő, Monor, Pilis, Albertirsa, Bercel, Cegléd, Abony stations until they reached Szolnok.

Palatine Stephen on a watercolour by Josef Bekel

The opening ceremony was also connected with another event that filled the nation with hope, as the opening of the railway was the first public appearance of the new royal governor, Archduke Stephen The 5 September 1847 issue of the Nemzeti Ujság wrote about this:

"The first appearance of the Imperial Royal Archduke Stephen, as our popular royal governor, in our capital, made the ceremony of the opening of the Hungarian central railway line from Pest to Szolnok grand and bright, and the joy of every patriot swelled high when the popular son of our country, the very first Hungarian, took part in a ceremony which, for our country, is in many respects the opening of a new and more beautiful future..."

Archduke Stephen was the son of the Hungarians' beloved palatine, Palatine Joseph. Palatine Joseph died on 13 January 1847, and in his son, the nation saw the continuation of the work which was represented by Archduke Joseph's nearly 50-year palatineship. At that time, Stephen was still "only" a governor, he was appointed Palatine only in the autumn of 1847 by the Parliament.

The opening was described in the already quoted article as follows:

"Early in the morning on the day of the railway line's opening, an army of countless carriages drove across Váci Road towards the railway station. The company distributed more than 700 invitation tickets, making sure that the most dignified men of all ranks and positions were present at this national celebration, who, out of sincere respect and reverence for the dignity of the opening and the high personage of the present royal governor, were mostly dressed in traditional Hungarian attire. […]

The departure of the train was scheduled for 8 o'clock. And at this appointed hour, his majesty the royal governor appeared, in a magnificent four-wheeled carriage, with the officers of the Budapest civil horse guard riding in front of him, and after him the officers of the German civil cavalry of Pest, setting an example to be followed, that punctuality and orderliness are the keys to the success of all great enterprises and the only condition for their existence..."

Of course, the 16-car train could only leave at quarter past 8 with the 700 invited passengers. The train was pulled by the locomotive "István", but the leading locomotive, "Monor" was running a few hundred meters in front of it. (It is still customary today for special trains, or as they are called today, trains carrying protected persons, to be preceded by a leading locomotive).

Contemporary advertisement about the railway line (Pesti Hírlap, 7 September 1847)

The railway was thus opened, and in the following period carried on brisk traffic. However, just 20 months later, this railway had a different important role, this line helped the Holy Crown and the Hungarian government to escape in time from the advancing Austrian troops.

Cover photo: The opening ceremony (Source: Ország-Világ, 27 September 1972)