Following the Austro-Hungarian Compromise (1867) and the unification of the three cities (Pest, Buda, and Óbuda) in 1873, Budapest was developing rapidly. The Budapest Public Works Council, established in 1870, elaborated the city’s Master Development Plan, as well as its transport and infrastructure development concept. This led to the construction of the Avenue connecting the City Park with the Downtown area in 1876, which was named after Count Gyula Andrássy in 1885, who was an enthusiastic supporter of its creation.
Originally, a horse-drawn railway and later, a tramway was planned for Andrássy út, but the Budapest Public Works Council refused to allow them for aesthetic reasons. This was how the idea of building an underground railway came to the fore, at the initiative of Mór Balázs, General Director of the Budapest Electric City Railway (BVVV). He proposed a similar solution to the London Underground, which was opened in 1863, but the Budapest line was designed to be electric rather than steam-powered.
At the beginning of 1894, the BVVV, in collaboration with the rival Budapest Road Railway Company (BKVT), submitted a plan to build an underground railway, involving Siemens and Halske, pioneers in electric railway technology. The consortium was granted fast-track licenses, with the proviso that the underground must be completed in time for the millennium celebrations. The contractor was Siemens and Halske, and the tunnel was built by Róbert Wünsch (who designed one of the country’s first steel-reinforced concrete bridges over the railway’s Zoo stop).
Construction work started in August 1894 and was completed in April 1896. The underground railway was officially opened on 2 May 1896, making Budapest Underground Railway the second in the world after London underground and the first in continental Europe. On 8 May, Franz Joseph, who was visiting Budapest for the opening of the Millennium Exhibition, traveled to the event in his royal underground carriage. After the visit, the name of the Budapest Underground Electric Railway was changed to Ferenc József Underground Electric Railway after the monarch.
The total length of the line was 3.7 km, with nine underground and two surface stops. Its two terminals were at Gizella (today: Vörösmarty) Square and at the Artézi (today: Széchenyi) Baths. In addition to modern technical solutions, great emphasis was placed on the underground’s external appearance. The stations were covered with Zsolnay tiles, and decorative hatches were built over them. The 6.0 m wide tunnel with a 2.85 m high ceiling housed twenty Schlick motor coaches.
The underground was operated and modernized by the BSzKRT from 1923, by the Budapest Tramway from 1947, and by the BKV from 1968. In 1950, during the construction of the East-West metro line, the Deák Square station was relocated. In 1972-73, a complete reconstruction was carried out: the electrical system and the rolling stock were renewed, and right-hand traffic was introduced. The entire line went underground, and the tracks were extended to Mexikói út. With this development, the line was extended to 4.4 km with 11 stops.
In 1995, in preparation for the Millecentenarium Anniversary, the eight historic stations were reconstructed in the style of 1896. In 2002, the Millennium Underground was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of Andrássy Avenue and its historic environment.
BKV’s Underground Railway Museum in Deák Square commemorates the first underground railway on the continent, which opened in 1896. The museum is located in an authentic setting, in the tunnel section of the Millennium Underground, which was decommissioned in the 1950s during the construction of the East-West Metro. It offers visitors a view and atmosphere reminiscent of the stations of yesteryear (including Zsolnay tiles, original station signage, cast-iron railings, benches, vehicles that once ran, and platform shelters). The exhibition also includes a number of other artifacts, original documents, blueprints, maps, photographs, models, and film footage, which will guide you through a century and a quarter of the history of the Millennium Underground Railway.