Hungarian Diesel Story

by János Erô Jr.


Traditionally, the Hungarian State Railway, the MÁV (founded in 1868) purchased almost all of its steam locomotives from its own Machine Factory (MÁVAG). The cars, however, were produced by many private companies. These included such Hungarian firms as Weitzer in Arad (now in Romania, still producing freight cars), Rába in Gyôr (now producing only trucks and road diesel engines) and Ganz in Budapest. Some cars were bought from foreign vendors, like "Ringhoffer" in Prague and several Austrian manufacturers.

These car building companies tried to enter into the railcar market too. First they experimented with steam railcars, but without success. As they did not have experience with steam-engine technology, they purchased this equipment from other companies, like de Dijon-Bouton of France and Komarek of Vienna, Austria. These steam engines had water-tube boilers to save weight and space. The water tube type of boiler can deliver a vast amount of steam, but it has practically no steam reservoir. Thus it is better suited to stationary or ship applications. These early steam railcars always suffered from steam shortage.

After experimenting with German diesel railcars from 1924, in 1927 the MÁV invited proposals for small, four-wheel railcars with internal combustion engines. All three major Hungarian car-builders participated. The winner was Ganz, mainly because they had all the needed technology internally, and would not need to depend on subcontractors. The Ganz-designed railcars were driven by a benzene (benzole) engine. MÁV purchased a large fleet of these railcars and used them on branch lines. Entire regions were served by only these units. This was the first large scale field test of railcars in Europe, and many foreign experts visited the workshops and stations to gain information and experience about this new service.

Ganz saw the problems with the benzene-engine and concentrated on developing a better motor. Hungary did not have a large navy, even before World War I, so Hungarian firms had no experience with diesels in submarines on which to draw. These were the basis for railroad diesel developments in most countries. A young engineer, György Jendrassik developed a new Diesel engine. This differed considerably from most foreign designs derived from submarine engines, especially as it was a high-speed (1100 RPM) engine. Most railroad Diesels at that time were slow speed Diesels, below 800RPM. Ganz replaced all benzene engines in the early '30s in the existing railcars and developed a fast streamlined eight-wheel railcar, the "Árpád". Its 270HP engine was mounted on the front truck. It had a hydraulically operated mechanical transmission, not a Diesel-electric drive. The maximum allowed speed was 120km/h. Seven of these railcars were built. MÁV used them to operate an "InterCity" service to Vienna before the war. During the war they were were used by the Hungarian military command. Six disappeared in the war; the seventh railcar (#23 Tas) was used by the highest military commander to escape from Hungary when the Russians came. It was handed over to the US Army and they returned it to Hungary in 1948. It was refurbished and is now a member of the "Nostagia" stock.

We took a trip with it last year. We had the opportunity to stay in the driver's compartment for a long time and my son operated the horn. The driver, who participated in the renovation work, explained that the mechanicism was in such good shape they only had to change only the engine and transmission bearings. Even the hydraulic transmission control is original, except for the flexible tubing.

The success of the Árpád railcar in Hungary brought many orders for Ganz. Similar railcars were delivered in many countries, mostly in North Africa and South America: Argentina, Peru, Chile, Uruguay. However, Ganz did not start to produce Diesel locomotives: this market was closed for them in Hungary.

In 1949, the communists came to power. They nationalized Ganz and ordered a forced merger with MÁVAG. (MÁVAG has always been owned by the State). The newly formed Ganz-MÁVAG continued the railcar buisness, and even the export activity, but technical development slowed and caused their withdrawal from Western markets. Ganz railcar production was diverted to serve the Soviet needs.

For domestic use a 600HP Diesel-mechanic railcar was developed for branchline service (Bamot and ABamot). It was similar to Árpád, but it had a three-axle truck under the engine, the middle-axle was idling, just to reduce the axle load. A version without the front door was exported in numbers to Poland.

. The merger helped, however, to develop Diesel locos. The first one in 1956 was a 600HP Diesel-electric hood switcher (M44). It was very successful. It was exported to Yugoslavia and Poland too. Slightly later a Diesel-hydraulic 450HP light switcher was developed (M31). . This was far less succesful, despite using an Austrian (Voith) hydraulic transmission. Later on a 1000HP version of the prewar Jendrassik engine was developed, and this was placed into a "road-switcher" like locomotive, which was used as passenger power in the '60s and '70s (M40).

There was however a need to develop a 2000HP passenger loco to replace the steamers. Ganz-MÁVAG developed a 2000HP version of the Jendrassik engine and an 1Co-Co1 cab loco. They applied two leading axles in the trucks similarly to the English designs to decrease axle-load. However in 1958 the crankshaft of the engine broke on the test-pad, and the development was cancelled, the loco scrapped. Except for some poor quality photos, not even pictures remained.

This is a mystery for me: this story is written in this form in every description dealing with that time period. I find it hard to believe, however. A crankshaft failure would not cause cancellation of an expensive and extensive project; they could not repair it or made a new one. I suspect the real reason is that many of the development engineers escaped and emigrated in 1956. There simply may not have been any experts to continue the project. I have put this question to a few fellows, but no one had an answer.

Thus MÁV needed a 2000HP Diesel loco. Two companies sent locomotives for trial. One was the Krauss-Maffei, with a two-engine Diesel-hydraulics. The other was Nyquist & Holomb (NOHAB) from Sweden. This loco was also operated extensively in Denmark, Belgium and Norway. It is basically a CC (Co'Co' in European) EMD F-Unit with two driver's cabs and rounded roof. The trucks differ from all those I saw in America, perhaps they are the Swedish contribution to the loco. (This is another mystery: despite operating in several European countries, nobody knows how much of the locos was made in Sweden and how much by EMD in the US.)

Although the Krauss-Maffeis performed well, MÁV choosed the NOHABs. The main reasons were that the hydraulic transmission was considered as too new (and perhaps the bad experience with the Hungarian Diesel-hydraulics), and that MÁV anticipated that two Diesel engines in a loco would cause higher maintenance costs than one. 20 NOHABs were purchased in 1963 and 64 (M61). A further order which was on way was stopped by the Soviets. They developed another 2000HP loco, and they forced Hungary and the other Eastern European countries to buy it (M62). It was of poor quality and it was a big success that Hungarian engineers could participate in its development - they said without this it would have been even poorer. There were over 300 M62 engines in Hungary, many of which are in still in service. After repairing and replacing many parts they are now more reliable than when they were built, but they could never achieve the reliability data of the NOHABs, which is far the best of all locos in Hungary. The Russian locos have no heating boilers. At first they were used only for freight, but later a heating car was connected to them in winter. Originally this was a boxcar containing a boiler (with heating personal) - actually a boiler of a scrapped small steamer (275). Later heating cars with a small Diesel engine driving a heating AC generator were purchased (see picture).

Ganz stopped any development on the Jendrassik engine. Fifteen years later they started to develop a new 2700HP passenger loco, but they purchased a licence and documentation of a 18 cylinder Diesel engine from the French SEMT-Pielstick Co. There were 10 new locos developed with AC generators and high level of electronics (M63). This proved however to be very unreliable. After 10 years all the 10 new locos were withdrawn and scrapped. Most mainlines in Hungary are electrified, but still there are some lines without electrification. The NOHABs and the Russian "Sergei"s are on duty there, but nobody knows what will happen if they should be withdrawn. Perhaps the lines will go as well.

Ganz however developed a 1800HP Diesel hydraulic loco based on the 12 cylinder version of the SEMT-Pielstick engine (M41). This is quite succesful, there are over 100 pieces in service, manily on branchlines.

Since 1990 there have been many attempts made to privatize Ganz-MÁVAG. It is not attractive to buyers; the technology did not change in the last years: the carbodies are produced almost on the same way as they were made in the late '30s. The first buyer was an English company and created "Hunslet". They made a number of railcars for Britain as well. Later they entered receivership, and the Austrian Jenbacher purchased a part of the company. The only thing IMO saving them from bankrupcy are the very low labour costs in Hungary.

The sister company, Ganz Electric, who made the electric part of the locomotives and railcars was purchased by its big pre-war competitor, the Italian Ansaldo.

They are still producing trams, electric railcars (BVmot) , a new type of diesel electric switcher was developed to replace the old ones (M42). The future is uncertain.

Here is the end of the story...

Thanks to János Erô Jr. for providing us the story.
Illustration photos by V63 Gigant Club.

If you have some questions, problems, suggestions or additions, please contact the V63 Gigant Club.

Last update: Mon Apr 14 1997