The tram lines leading to Pesterzsébet have always been a highlight for tram enthusiasts from abroad. If I should name one line in Budapest with the strangest character, I would say route 21 - which was known as route 30 until autumn 2008. And if I should decide, which tramline one should avoid, I would also say route 21, because on the way it crosses the skid row while taking some doubtful elements on board.
On the other hand, the line gives a quite edifying cross-section-view of Pest: it starts right at the Grand Boulevard, runs through the civic quarter of Ferencváros before reaching the former "slaughterhouse district" now pretty much torn down, sporting an alternating row of modern office buildings and empty sites. Then it makes its way along "The Mess" around Illatos utca, to reach what has remained of an industrial area, including an important weapon factory once called "lamp factory" to hide its purpose, although simply everybody knew what the place was. Then comes a row of communist-style high-rise apartment houses, and the quite interesting "giant loop" of Pesterzsébet, a gutter-running complex, what has been formed out of various tram and suburban railway lines..
The history of the Pesterzsébet loop is a complicated one, but the way there is a quite straight-forward story: the first stretch between the Grand Boulevard (Ferenc körút) and Ferencváros station via Mester utca was launched in 1900. Then it was extended to the Swine Slaughterhouse two years later. Two more years, and the line reached Pesterzsébet, featuring the forerunner of today's "inner loop" of Pesterzsébet, although used in the oppostite direction. The rest of the loop complex will be explained on a separate page, so we skip a few decades until 1994, when tram line 30 - until then doing today's route 21 - was extended to Pesterzsébet, Pacsirtatelep to supplement tram 31, which was closed. In 2000 an "inlay" service called 30A was launched between Ferenc körút and Könyves Kálmán körút to cater the new plaza (Lurdy Ház) there. 2005 saw tram 30 returning to its former path, not using the "outer loop" anymore. In 2008 bus and tram route designations were harmonised (=getting rid of parallely used numbers), therefore tram 30 was renamed to 21, tram 30A to 21A.
On this page you might see the old route number appearing on photos, because I have more pictures of that era, than of today's.
Route 21: Ferenc körút - Mester utca - Könyves Kálmán körút - Gubacsi út - Határ út - Török Flóris utca - Nagysándor József utca - Jókai Mór utca - Határ út, and then back 6.6 km + 8 km (due to the loop's nature, the line doesn't come back the same way as it went outwards)
Remark: As mentioned earlier, this route crosses some "skid row" places, where it might be unwise to show up in the late hours, or to show off with expensive photo equipment at any time of the day. Of course it's not as bad nowadays as it was a few years ago, but the vicinity of Illatos utca is still not the best place to get off and wait for the next tram with camera in the hand. Also, Szabadkai út near the Gubacsi út/Határ út terminus of route 3 is a "grace area" where prostitution is allowed by the local government - and they might also not like people with cameras around.
The inner terminus lies right at the Grand Boulevard - in fact it's connected to it: this is one of the two connections for the depot rides of route 4/6.
The track layout might seem strange, but with a bit of imagination you can make out that this used to be a three-track terminus (until the seventies, I think), with one of those tracks given up to make room for vehiclular traffic. The lights are best in the morning - during other times of the day the houses cast strong shadows on the trams.
rails: Angyal utca
Until the grand renovation of the Grand Boulevard in the 1990s, the connection to route 4/6 was not a direct one: depot rides and transports went around in the neighbouring streets Angyal utca and Tompa utca.
Mester utca is one of the more civic neighbourhoods of Ferencváros, historically known for cheap housing for labourers and poor people. Architectually it's even more interesting than Ferenc körút, the adjoining section of the Grand Boulevard.
For a while tracks run on one side of the street, then they change for the middle strip.
Ecer since the rehabilitation of Ferencváros started, this stretch looks quite okay.
After two stops we cross tram 24 in Haller utca, with an interesting layout best suited for depot rides:
Tracks run on the (other) side of Mester
utca after this. Around 10 o'clock and 1500PM you can see lots of depot
rides here (mostly of route 2/2A and 24). Usually you'll see more depot-bound
trams than scheduled ones then :)
rails: Vágóhíd utca
One of the shortest-living tram lines was the one in Vágóhíd utca ("Abattoir street"), which connected the Mester utca line to Nagyvárad tér between 1908 and the end of World War I. This was necessary because BVVV - the owner of the Mester utca line - was not allowed to connect to the Üllői út trams elsewhere, because other possible paths (Haller utca and the inner section of Üllői út) were owned by their competitor BKVT. After the companies were (forcefully) unified in 1918 as BEVV, this connecting stretch lost its importance, and was abandoned.
The stop Könyves Kálmán körút is located in a kind of basin between two large malls and the ramp to Lágymányosi híd (bridge). The awkward crossing of streets has lead to an awkward track layout:
Track layout (C) by Balázs Fejes, from villamosok.hu
As you can see, there's no direct connection between tram 1 and 21, which means depot rides of latter must reverse on the crossover in Mester utca.
This is where tram 21 and 21A part ways: the first turns west, while the latter joins tram 1 for one more stop. Originally tram 21 would have received a terminus near the TESCO supermarket in Gubacsi út, but the Traffic Superintendence denied an approval for that, because the "terminus" is in fact a crossover in the middle of the street, which in the opinion of the Superintendence would necessitate expensive safety equipment, for which the BKV did not have the money. So, 21A instead terminates in front of the Ferencváros remise...
Tram 21 then passes under the ramp of tram
1, and turns into Gubacsi út.
Közvágóhíd - literally "Central Slaughterhouse" - once featured quite a number of tram lines next to the suburban railway's terminus and a tram depot. And all this was located between two diverging railway lines, making the place a favorite for rail enthusiasts - and USAAF bomber squadrons in World War II. Still, most of the ruins seen around date from much later: the end of communism, when most of the industry here was given up.
One of the most romantic (and now lost) tram places in the past was the alley-way at the feet of the railway embankment, through which tram 31 started out to Pesterzsébet...
Gubacsi út used to be the industrial
high-street of Ferencváros, now only a small number of those former
industrial sites are used. The best time for taking photos here is in the
rails: Hentes utca
Hentes utca ("Butcher street" - remember I called the place the "slaughterhouse quarter"?) has a very similar (and short) history to Vágóhíd utca: it existed between 1906 and the end of World War I as a connection of the BKVT line in Soroksári út (now only used by the suburban railway to Ráckeve) to the Swine Slaughterhouse, to get around BVVV-concessioned Gubacsi út.
There's a slight change of direction in Gubacsi út where the main entrance to the Swine Slaughterhouse used to be. This is where a short stretch on reservation starts - and where carless motorists often get stuck on the tram's private right-of-way when they follow the tram without mindig the markings on the street surface :)
Okay, and then comes the section, of which I don't have any photos: the blocks around Illatos út ("Fragrant street" - what an inapt name!), generally known as "The Mess" (Dzsumbuj). The name refers to a series of cheap flats built around 1937 to replace slums that came to existence after World War I, when 2/3rd of the country was cut off (Treaty of Trianon) and lots of refugees fled to Budapest. These blocks then turned into slums after the inhabitants with slowly gathered possessions moved out, with unemployed and homeless people taking their place. It then came to a point in the near past, when ambulance had had to be escorted by police to wounded inhabitants of the blocks. Fortunately a rehabilitation programme was started a few years ago, and the inhabitants are being repatriated to better vicinities, with the buildings set for demolition.
The light-brownish building in the background is the front row of The Mess. I wonder how this street will change when it will be demolished!
I did not yet tell about a peculiar quality of Gubacsi út: the tram tracks here were the most worn ones in the city. This resulted in speed limits of up... or better: down to 10 km/h, which turned a 5-minute ride into a 15-minute ride. And the Ganz articulated trams of remise Ferencváros (nicknamed "industrial waste" by some tram enthusiasts - yes, enthusiasts!) made this slow ride an unendurable one: the loose parts of the vehicles clattered on every fault of the rails, and believe me, there were quite a few of them! Now BKV replaces short sections one after another every once in a while, so the really bad stretch gets shorter every year, but it's still a time-consuming and tiring experience to ride this tram. I believe there are worse tracks in Europe (for example around Katowice), but this is where it felt worse, mostly because of the tardiness.
And now we leave this section as we arrive to tram 3's terminus at Határ út - the name of which means "Boundary street": the old border between Budapest and the once-autonomous settlement of Pesterzsébet, incorporated into the capital in 1950. This is where the anachronistic tram kingdom of Pesterzsébet starts - but that shall be the subject of a separate webpage soon!
Disclaimer: The author cannot
be held responsible for mistakes, misinterpretations, inaccuracies, inactualities,
etc. on/of these pages, nor for the content of other pages linked in.
Archive photos: Michael J. Russell
Track layout drawings: BSzKRt (collection of Dr. Zoltán Ádám Németh), BKV, Fejes Balázs
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