Budapest Cogwheel Railway (Fogaskerekű), officially called tram line number 60, is a rack railway that began operating 130 years ago. The Urban and Suburban Transit Association has been a strong proponent of the line’s extension in both directions – to Normafa and Széll Kálmán tér – but the project could suffer delays, due to a conflict between the capital and the government about European Union funding.
Starting in 1868 a horse tramway ran on schedule from the Chain Bridge to Zugliget, set in operation by the Public Railway Society of Buda. Niklaus Riggenbach, a Swiss man, was the inventor of the Riggenbach rack system, which allowed locomotives to negotiate steeper stretches of track by bolting a rack between the rails, which a toothed wheel or cog on the underside of the locomotive could engage. France awarded him a patent on 12 August 1863.
In 1870 Riggenbach visited Budapest with his concept to connect Sváb Hill, a district developing into a holiday resort in the 1850s, to the rest of the capital by cogwheel railway. As director of the Basel company Internationale Gesellschaft für Bergbahnen, he applied for permission to construct the cogwheel railway in 1873.
The building permit was issued on 3 July that year and construction began immediately. The first train ran at 4pm on 24 June 1874 and regular traffic began on the following day. The whole line was built according to Riggenbach’s cogwheel system.
The normal-gauge single-track railway was 2883 metres long all the way uphill with a difference in height of 264 metres. Its valley terminal was built at Városmajor, where it still is today, while on the hillside it terminated at its current seventh stop, Sváb Hill.
Successful operation of the cogwheel railway raised the issue of extending the line. The plan was brought to fruition in 1890, when two stops were added to Széchenyi Mountain. In 1973 the whole track was renewed using the Strub cogwheel system and new rolling stock was introduced. The older trains last ran on 15 March 1973 and traffic using the new vehicles began on 20 August that year.