EU funds

PM Viktor Orbán’s EU-funded mini train no longer discloses passenger numbers

In 2015, the Hungarian government granted HUF 600 million (almost EUR 2 million at that time) EU funding for the construction of the Felcsút railway. The money went to the foundation running the local football academy, which was founded by PM Viktor Orbán and chaired by his good friend, the now wealthiest Hungarian, Lőrinc Mészáros. Atlatszo asked the foundation every year how many tickets were sold, and how much was the operating cost. According to the data, the train was a loss-maker since its launch in 2016. However, the foundation does not share this information anymore because the 5-year long maintenance period required by the EU is over.

Atlatszo first reported in 2015 that the Hungarian government decided to spend 600 million Hungarian forints (almost 2 million euros then) of EU funds on a tourist railway project in Felcsút. The mini train runs 6 kilometers from the soccer stadium built next to the PM’s house to an arboretum in the neighbouring village, Alcsútdoboz. The train is operated by the Felcsúti Utánpótlás Neveléséért Alapítvány (The Foundation for Felcsút Football Development or FUNA) which belongs to the Puskás Soccer Academy, both founded by PM Viktor Orbán, and chaired by Lőrinc Mészáros, childhood friend of the PM, and the richest man of Hungary.

Hungarian PM Viktor Orban launched the mini train, officially called Vál Valley Light Railway in Felcsút at the end of April in 2016. We filed a FOIA request to FUNA every year to ask how many tickets were sold, and how much was the cost of operating. According to the foundation’s answers, we have reported regularly that the train was loss-making every year and often ran empty, without passengers. Between its launch in 2016 and 2021 autumn, it generated a loss of HUF 33 million (EUR 86,840).

We filed again a FOIA request to FUNA last August, asking for data since September 2021. The foundation did not answer, so we complained to the National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (NAIH).

The authority sent the report about its investigation in the middle of December. According to this, FUNA informed the NAIH that the data requested by Átlátszó had previously been released due to the EU funding of the light railway, but the project was completed in September 2021. The cause: the relevant government regulation requires a five-year-long maintenance period for EU projects, so this already expired in May 2021, because the mini train launched on 1 May 2016.

Orban Viktor Meszaros Lorinc Felcsut Kisvasut 20160430

Lőrinc Mészáros (l) and Viktor Orbán (r) at the inaguration of the light railway in Felcsút on 30th April 2016 (credit: Orbán/Facebook)

FUNA also stated in its letter sent to the NAIH that the Vál Valley Light Railway is already operated by the Pro-Kvóta 2004 Non-Profit Ltd. (they did not say since when), so the foundation is not the data controller in this matter. Even though they added – and the company register also clearly shows – that the company is owned by the FUNA.

We filed a FOIA request to the firm, asking the passengers numbers and operating costs in January, but they did not respond. There is no sign these data in the company balance sheet either, so probably we will no longer know how many passengers use the EU-founded light railway in the home village of PM Viktor Orbán.

Written and translated by Katalin Erdélyi. The original, more detailed Hungarian version of this story can be found here. Photo: The mini train in Felcsút, near the stadium on 1st May 2016, credit: MTI/Zoltán Máthé.