This year the Zsuzsi Forest Railway, the oldest narrow-gauge railway in Hungary, celebrates its 140th birthday. The past few years have been challenging for Zsuzsi, undergoing a year and a half of renovation and pandemic restrictions, but the railway has overcome these obstacles well, closing 2021 with a full house and record passenger numbers. We spoke to Hajnalka Fogarasi Makóné, Managing Director of the Zsuzsi Forest Railway Nonprofit Ltd.
When did you first meet Zsuzsi Forest Railway? What memories do you have of it?
I started working for Zsuzsi Forest Railway eight years ago, as a marketing communications manager. As fate would have it, my first event was the organisation of Little Railway Day, which is one of the most important events for us. I had an unforgettable experience on my first train ride when I got to experience the treasures of the 17 km historic railway line and the Three Hills Rest Forest.
It is said that a happy man is one whose work is his hobby and his hobby is his work. It is true! I have been feeling this happiness for eight years now because every day at Zsuzsi is a gift for me. I used to be a programme organiser, but I have been working as a manager for two years now, so running the railway is now entirely my passion. I love my job and I’m very proud of the team at the railway, who are happy to work every day of the year, without sparing any time or energy.
I think that one of the special things about Debrecen is that the forest, the natural environment, and the urban life are in perfect harmony. The best way to experience this is to take a ride on the Zsuzsi miniature railway! That is why I think it is important to take care of our values and traditions, of which we can be justly proud. A Zsuzsi train ride is more than just a journey, as it preserves the memories and stories of nearly a century and a half and many generations. In addition to preserving our cultural values, my important goal is to educate, to raise a nature-loving and nature-conserving society with the involvement of children studying in Debrecen’s educational institutions. A well-functioning railway, I believe, connects generations, has a community-building role, and helps to bring cultural and natural values closer to families and children. And this is important for our future!
Our daily motivation comes from the love and gratitude we receive from the families who travel with us.
The last two years have not been easy in the life of Zsuzsi, due to the one-and-a-half-year renovation and the pandemic, but you have ended the year with a successful result. What was the biggest success for you, the most memorable moment in 2022?
Service providers in the tourism and leisure segment have faced a serious challenge due to the pandemic. Thanks to the renovation of the Zsuzsi Forest Railway, we were able to offer our passengers a renewed family and passenger-friendly service, and we were happy to reopen our doors.
My motto is that if we do not see difficulties as problems, but as tasks to be solved, then whatever difficult times may greet us, progress, development, and success are inevitable. I do not deny that we have had a much more joyful and prosperous year, but as they say, there is good in every bad. We have experienced how important the Zsuzsi miniature railway is for families, so it was a joyful moment to reopen, even if for a while we were able to offer passengers ‘only’ the experience of riding the train instead of the rich programme of activities that we had before. The world has changed, the pandemic has created a new situation, so we have rethought our strategic plans in the light of the new circumstances and what experiences we can offer children and families to make their time with us as meaningful and enjoyable as possible. With this in mind, this year we have organised guided tours in the forest of the Triple Peaks, where guests can experience special moments in nature. My heartfelt thanks to environmental educator Edit Varga for her help!
Of course, there were many nice experiences and exciting programmes this year, which I remember with pleasure, but perhaps it is the moment of reopening that always makes me feel good when I think about it. After all, what more could a family-friendly service provider want than for families from all over the country to seek out and love the Zsuzsi Little Railway? It is moments like these that we work for, moments that give us faith and strength in a difficult time.
To sum up: life has brought us two long and difficult years, which have condemned us to patience and waiting, but I believe that the fruit of listening to each other and working together will be many happy programmes and memorable rides.
The Zsuzsi will celebrate its 140th birthday in 2022. As the “mum” of the Zsuzsi Forest Railway, what do you wish for her on this special anniversary?
The Zsuzsi Forest Railway has been involved in the life of the town since its foundation. In my opinion, the heartbeat of Debrecen is the Nagyerdő, but the heartbeat of Hármashegyalja. The country-wide network of small railways is one of the pillars of Hungarian tourism, an important element of which is the Zsuzsi Forest Railway, which has been running through the beautiful landscapes of the Forest Puszta surrounding Debrecen for 140 years in 2022. My wish is simple and heartfelt: more and more joyful children’s laughter and happy families on the trains, all of whom share our motto: “Zsuzsi is our heart’s desire!”