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Trailblazing the Tracks: Celebrating 60 Years of the First Female Locomotive Driver in Czechoslovakia

Trailblazing the Tracks: Celebrating 60 Years of the First Female Locomotive Driver in Czechoslovakia
photo: Peter Leigh / Flickr/Misty morning freight
18 / 01 / 2024

The first female locomotive driver on the territory of Czechoslovakia, Margita Horváthová, started her dream ride 60 years ago. Although the job of a train driver is typically a man's domain, Horváthová broke through this barrier in 1963. Now 80 years old, she reflects positively on her decision.

Immediately after graduating from the electrical engineering school, she joined the depot in Košice as an electrician. After months of work, she went to her manager and told him that her dream job was that of a locomotive driver. He told her that if she changed her mind and remained interested in the job, she could take a course. She did, and started the course near Gelnica. Her work started on electric locomotives and she did the course on diesel engines a few years later.

First, she drove on harnesses in Nizna Myšla to Slančík, where they pushed out heavy freight trains. "It was challenging, but I have fond memories of it," Margita said. She later moved to the transshipment yard in Čierna nad Tisou, where she used to run freight trains to Spišská Nová Ves. She also tried her hand at riding on international express trains between what was then Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. The trains were named Dukla and Milovice. It was impossible to board the Milovice train, the carriages carried soldiers and their wives and goods that were not available in the Soviet Union.

Ron Fisher / Flickr

With a smile on her face, she remembers the day when she found her name in the train book, the name of the first female cosmonaut, Tereshkova. Asked what profession she would choose today if she were young again, she said she would be a locomotive engineer again, but not under the conditions that exist on the railways today. "We used to run with helpers and the railway wasn't fragmented into several companies where everyone played in their own sandbox. Being a locomotive engineer back then meant something! I guess I'm old school and I'm looking at it from the perspective of someone who lived most of his life in different circumstances," she elaborated.

After 20 years on the railways, she finished her studies in electrical traction and power engineering at the University of Žilina and, for the sake of her family, got a job as a railway engineer at the Čierna nad Tisou depot. Working on the railway remained in the family. Mrs. Margita's husband worked all his life as a locomotive engineer-instructor. Their son Miroslav also became a train driver.

And, according to Margita, what was the most difficult thing about working on the railway?

Mrs. Margita said that the beginning and the end of the work was always difficult. Especially when the work came out in the early morning hours. "The hardest part for me was when I had to go to work on Christmas Eve and I couldn't be with my family," she elaborated. She added that there used to be Christmas trees lit up at every station and there was always another tree out of the dispatchers' windows. It was always very difficult for Ms. Margita, she said, because every time she looked at the lit snow-covered tree, she always remembered her loved ones and the fact that she could not be with them.

"In the past, when a train driver left for duty, loved ones wished him a happy return. I know what can happen during a shift. That is why I wish all female and male drivers a happy return, but also, in the corner of my soul, the return of the atmosphere that once reigned on the locomotive," concluded Margita Horváthová.