There isn't a train I wouldn't take,
No matter where it's going.
- "Travel" by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Traveling by train is hands-down the highlight of any trip; who doesn't love the relaxed, unhurried pace, the gentle rocking of the carriage, the romantic-ness of it all? Train travel today isn't as glamorous or novel as it was in the late 1800s, but the rails remain as alluring and adventurous as ever. While every train ride promises great views and people-watching opportunities, operators are gradually modernizing their fleets so riding in an old-school train carriage is less and less common. But where do all the old trains go? In Hungary, many go to Budapest's Istvántelek Train Yard, and a visit to this abandoned place is guaranteed to thrill anyone who loves old trains. The site itself is difficult to access as of July 2017, the most difficult I've experienced so far in exploring abandoned places, but with a little planning and some stealthy moves, I was able to get inside this fascinating world of train ruins.
The "Red Star Train Graveyard" was once one of the most important railway repair workshops in Hungary. Hungarian rail ridership was strong since its introduction in the mid-1800s, prompting rapid expansion of railways and large yards to maintain the burgeoning fleets. The Istvántelek Train Yard was built in Budapest between 1902 and 1905, going on to serve as a sprawling, modern repair facility for the city's trains. In fact, one of the workshop halls was so large at 24,000 square meters that it was noted as Budapest's largest building in 1902. But every dog has its day, and Istvántelek was no exception as it struggled to recover from heavy damage after World War II and the eradication of steam locomotives. At some point, trains were brought to the site with plans of preparing them for exhibition at the Budapest Railway Museum, but that never happened and now more than a hundred train cars sit abandoned and scattered throughout the rail yard. The current collection of rusting gems includes rare Hungarian steam engines, 1960s carriages from the Soviet era, and German freight cars that very well could have transported Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz during Nazi occupation. Pretty damn incredible.
Istvántelek is well-known in urban exploring circles and its city location is no secret, but it is still hard to get into. Because there is a checkpoint that requires paperwork from visitors, AtlasObscura.com recommends visiting on a Sunday when things are quiet. So, visit on Sunday is what I did, celebrating Christmas Eve by jumping over a low, brick wall on the northern edge and doing my best to remain out of sight as I ran around lost. But despite being a Sunday, there was still a fair amount of activity at Istvántelek because small companies and scrapyards occupy most of the once-empty buildings. Some of the buildings are locked up tightly, but if you go deep enough into the site, the large depot is open and worth exploring (in hindsight, I wish I had taken a picture of the black train with the red star, or jumped on top of a train for a better view). Here are some shots from the large depot.
Around the grounds
Fortunately, I didn't run into any menacing guard dogs or Hungarian officials (for some reason, the thought of this absolutely terrified me). There are many interesting things to see walking around Istvántelek that make the risk worthwhile, like gorgeous brick railway architecture, a set of intact brick and green wooden viewing towers, hand-painted signs in Hungarian, and random train carriages inviting one to jump aboard and explore.
On the northern edge of the rail yard is this newer two-story concrete building. Judging by the locker and shower rooms, it was likely a changing facility for workers. There wasn't much left inside apart from a purse filled with cobwebs and a few documents in Hungarian scattered about, but it was still fun to wander through.