This network would be built along main roads, lake shores and riverbanks -- and could take advantage of two vast untapped resources -- some 4,200 kilometres of flood-prevention banks and another 3,700 kilometres of disused rail lines. Such a trail system, for cyclists as well as hikers, would be a third the length of Hungary's road system.
The proposal to exploit these existing corridors was presented at the Fábos Conference on Landscape and Greenway Planning, jointly organised earlier this month in Budapest by Corvinus University and University of Massachusetts.
The idea is a the brainchild of Corvinus Landscape Architecture Professor Attilla Csemez. In a keynote speech at the Budapest conference he noted:
The disused rail lines and flood protection banks constitute an outstanding resource for Hungary’s greenway network, becauseAs Csemez notes, the 4,200 km of dykes are a huge resource in themselves. By comparison, the Netherlands has just 1,500 km of linear dykes while the Po River Valley has 1,400 km and the Loire 480 km.
- they are already in state ownership (state railways or water management authorities),
- they are suited for immediate development,
- they connect destinations that are of great significance to tourism, and
- they cover the most diverse and far-reaching points of the country.
Unsurprisingly, Hungary's horde of disused rail lines has been steadily growing over the past 50 years, as a result of several factors. In just the past three years, 50 branch lines have closed down and there's no end in sight. Without doubt, this is regrettable from the point of view of sustainable transport.
However, one advantage of converting disused lines to greenways is that it maintains their integrity as transport corridors. That way, when society decides to revive its rail system at some time in the future, the right-of-ways will still exist.
The whole idea of "rails to trails" conversion works quite nicely in the United States, for example. Where I was raised in Eastern Washington and North Idaho, a huge network of recreational trails has been developed over the last 10-15 years, mainly on rail lines that once served the mining industry. With the mines closed, the lines are being converted to biking and hiking trails with the hope of reinvigorating local economies with tourism trade.
Greenway development could serve a similar purpose in distressed parts of Hungary. Many of the rail line closures since 1989 were the direct consequence of factory closures and attendant cessation of freight traffic. The proposed network of greenways would reanimate these dead transport lines and bring tourist traffic to scenic but economically hungry pockets of the country. This is an idea with many potential winners.