New Line Opens with Steam

Tuesday, 29 September 2015 by

Reading the title, you may be forgiven for thinking that Behind The Water Tower has decided to cover the re-opening of The Borders Railway (known formerly as The Waverley Route.)

Whilst worthy of coverage in its own right, the similarities between the formal reopening of part of the former route down to Tweedbank, by Her Majesty the Queen, and the opening of the new inland route (the Pomorska Kolej Metropolitalna) between Gdansk and Gdynia are striking.

Both the Borders Railway, and the routes are effectively old routes relayed and reopened with new stations.  Neither is electrified.  The 19.5 kilometre long Gdansk line provides a direct connection to the airport on the alignment of the pre-war line from Kokoszski to Wrzeszcz, with a new chord built at the western end of the line to connect with the non-electrified line to Gdynia.  Train services on the line are provided by ten diesel railcars, built by Bydgoszcz based PESA.

Both routes featured steam haulage as part of the official opening.  Her Majesty was conveyed by the royal train from Edinburgh to Tweedbank hauled by preserved A4 “Union of South Africa”.  John Cameron, who has owned the locomotive longer than its original builder, the LNER, and British Railways combined was present on the footplate for the occasion.

Poland’s new line (Pomorska Kolej Metropolitalna) also had steam present for its official opening.  TKh05353, owned by DB Schenker, and loaned to and operated by KSK Wroclaw was brought in specially for the event.  You may be forgiven for wondering why such a diminutive industrial shunter was brought in to feature in such a prestigous event.  After all, with Poland’s Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz conducting the opening of the first major new passenger line in the last 25 years, you would have thought that a more suitable locomotive could be provided.  Apparently not.  Despite Poland still having steam locomotives with PKP Cargo, neither Wolsztyn nor Chabowka were able to provide a locomotive to cover the event.  Wolsztyn had already contractually committed to provide steam haulage for a TurKol special with their sole in-ticket Ol49, and therefore understandably had to honour that commitment.  It is unclear why Chabowka were unable to provide one of their four in-ticket locomotives for the event.

15. Oficjalne foto dla prasy

Made in Poland.  TKh05353 sits alongside one of the new PESA-built railcars.  Photo: Marek Ciesielski

Originally restored at the former sand railway works at Dzierzno, near to Pyskowice, TKh05353 was operated and maintained by DB Schenker.  Following the sale of the works, the locomotive was moved to another DB Schenker workshop in Rybnik, where it only saw limited use.  Subsequently it has been loaned to KSK Wroclaw who have successfully overhauled the engine, and had it recertified for further operation.

Behind the Water Tower congratulate KSK Wroclaw on their success at operating the locomotive, and for providing a professional service at the opening of the Pomorska Kolej Metropolitalna.

21. Bliskie spotkania trzeciego stopnia

TKh meets Pendolino.  Photo: Marek Ciesielski

Transwersalna closure puts charters in doubt

Thursday, 17 September 2015 by


The sudden decision to close the line from Kasina Wielka to Nowy Sacz to passenger traffic has taken several groups by surprise, not least Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Wolsztyńskiej Parowozowni (TPWP) who have a planned photo charter for 10 October.  The line from Chabowka to Nowy Sacz, part of the Kolej Transwersalna had recently been subject to renewed activity, due to the Małopolskie Szlaki Turystyki Kolejowej (Malopolska Railway Tourism), organised by the Nowy Sacz Railway Enthusiasts Society.  The society had recently received funding of 200,000 zl, (about £35,000) from the Malopolska regional government to run a series of charters along the line.  They too, have had to change plans, for trains later this month, and into October and November.

Ty42-107 on the closed section, 26 May 2013

Ty42-107 heads a special organised by the Nowy Sacz Railway Enthusiasts Society towards Chabowka, 26 May 2013.  Photo: John Savery

The decision, taken on safety grounds, was made by PLK, the business which runs Polish rail tracks.  With limited (if no) maintenance being undertaken on sections of the line, the permanent way is in poor condition.  The remaining part of the line, from Chabowka to Kasina Wielka remains open.

The line has been threatened with closure before however had a last minute reprieve.  With no scheduled freight service over the line, the closure is effectively a total closure over the scenic and heavily graded section between Kasina Wielka and Nowy Sacz.


Wolsztyn Shed – Wielkopolska Vote “Yes”

Tuesday, 21 July 2015 by


OL49-69 ready to depart with Woltur train, Wolsztyn. Photo William Wright.

(Click on images to see larger photos.)

Further to our report (BTWT, 1 July 2015) that representatives of all the parties (Wielkopolska Provincial Government, Wolsztyn District Council, Wolsztyn Town Council and PKP Cargo) had agreed in principle to proceed on the basis of a revised business plan, the council members of the various local authorities have been debating and voting on the proposals to set a new institute to run the shed. Each of the parties will be making a contribution to the setting up and operation of the shed (PKP Cargo – locomotives, rolling stock and facilities; others – start up capital and an ongoing financial contribution towards operating expenses) and participating in its strategic management.

Wolsztyn District Council (Starostwo Wolsztyńskie) have already voted in favour of the proposals and yesterday a critical milestone was passed when the Council of the Wielkopolska Provincial Government (Sejmik Wielkopolski) also passed a vote in favour. The Wielkopolska councillors’ vote was critical because the business plan envisages the provincial government being the principal funding source for the restoration and running of daily steam services.

The last council vote needed to secure the plan is that of the members of Wolsztyn Town Council, but with the town’s hospitality industry badly feeling the drop in tourism since the cessation of daily steam services, it is envisaged that Wolsztyn Mayor, Wojtek Lis, will have little difficulty in securing the support of the town’s councillors. The Town Council will consider the question during their meeting on August 3. If they vote in favour, the last piece of the jigsaw falls into place. There will be a formal signing ceremony sometime later, and December 1, 2016 is already pencilled in as the first day that the shed opens its doors under the auspices of its new owners.

The elephant in the room remains Poland’s railway infrastructure manager, PKP PLK. For reason best known to itself, PKP PLK insists on treating steam trains as if they were carrying out of gauge loads or nuclear waste. Whereas in other countries, steam trains are regarded as bringing useful publicity to the railway and their operators enjoy access to the railway network on the same (or even preferential) terms as those of other trains, in Poland PKP PLK demands a premium rate. As a result it is almost impossible to fill a steam train in Poland unless somebody – usually a local authority – picks up some of the bill.

With so many bodies pulling together to safeguard the future of Poland’s steam heritage at Wolsztyn would it not be appropriate for PKP PLK to also put a shoulder to the wheel?


Wolsztyn steam is alive…

Tuesday, 21 July 2015 by

 …passengers needed!


by William Wright


Poznan Market Square. Photo William Wright

(Click on images to see larger photos.)

Standard-gauge steam services running on selected days around Wolsztyn are very much alive! I tested a few services on Thursday and Friday May 21 and 22, 2015.

My short tour started in Poznan – a fine town with plenty to discover. I caught a local electric train to Zbaszynek in time to see the afternoon steam train from Wolsztyn arrive. A few days earlier a problem with a wheel bearing had required immediate repair, but thankfully all was now well with Ol49-69 that was to haul all the steam services.

The steam journey to Wolsztyn started with a non-stop stretch to Zbaszyn, on the Berlin to Warsaw mainline. From there, and on all the lines radiating from Wolsztyn, the scenery is a mixture of small villages and forest landscapes; look out for deer and old-fashioned horse and cart farming! Wolsztyn is a small town, with for many visitors its principle attraction being the engine shed and several steam locomotives in various states of repair, but with plenty of fine local attractions to discover also worth exploring in its own right. Accommodation can be found easily.


OL49-69 on arrival at Zbaszynek. Photo William Wright.

The following day, three return services covered part of the main routes out of Wolsztyn, to Nowa Wies Mochy, Rakoniewice and Stefanowo. Each service is mentioned clearly on the printed station departure board timetables. Tickets can be bought on the trains. The services ran perfectly to time, key railway staff were ready to signal departures, operate level-crossing gates and set signals. My visit not being a weekend, passenger numbers were very low, but this is still early days.

As reported in BTWT on 19 February 2015, the town of Wolsztyn, various other local authorities and the Wolsztyn Experience agreed to invest in a brand new tourist product – Woltur. This was set up by Patryk Szkopiec of IRPiK, the same organisation that runs Turkol, with the cooperation of PKP Cargo, responsible for the engine shed in Wolsztyn, and local train services operator, Przewozy Regionalne. Turkol continues to run longer-distance weekend steam specials.


Frozen in time, Tuchorza station and station master. Photo William Wright.

The overall impression is a perfectly run service authentically reproducing a sample of timetabled standard-gauge steam services. My recommendation? Go now whilst the services still exist! For those interested in a more hands-on experience see the Wolsztyn Experience website.


Wolsztyn Institute Plan gets green light

Wednesday, 1 July 2015 by


A ray of sunlight in Wolsztyn Shed. Photo Jo’ny.

A major milestone in the plan to set up a cultural institute to manage Wolsztyn Depot (see BTWT, 8 May 2014) was achieved yesterday, when at a meeting at the office of the Chief Executive (Urząd Marszałkowski) a new business plan was agreed to by all the parties concerned.

Negotiations had been stalled for some time because of the size of the on-going financial support being asked of the local authorities. Relations between PKP Cargo and the local authorities had reached an all time low and PKP Cargo had threatened to pull the plug on this year’s Steam Parade,  if the local authorities did not sign up to the business plan.


With just the basics necessary for light maintenance, Wolsztyn lacks the engineering resources necessary for heavy maintenance. Photo Jo’ny.

A new ‘can do’ attitude seems to have infected all the parties since the visit to Wolsztyn of Britain’s Ambassador to Poland, Robin Barnett (see BTWT, 18 March 2015). Not only was it announced that the Steam Parade (see BTWT, 5 May, 2015) was going ahead, but shortly afterwards PKP Cargo agreed to prepare a new business plan which would take into account the concerns of the local authorities.


Steam specials could be a useful income stream, but track access charges for steam trains are punitive. Photo Jo’ny.

(All photos can be enlarged by clicking on the images.)

During the last few months the business plan has been the subject of intense discussion with the local authorities and PKP Cargo has given a ‘hair cut’ to the financial support expected from the local authorities by cutting the rental payments expected from the new institute.

At yesterday’s meeting representatives of all the parties to the negotiations – Wojciech Jankowiak, the deputy Chief Executive of Wielkopolska Province; Janusz Frąckowiak, the Chief Executive of Wolsztyn District; Wojciech Lis, the Mayor of Wolsztyn; and Andrzej Jabłoński of PKP Cargo agreed to proceed on the basis of PKP Cargo’s revised plan.

Our congratulations to all concerned. It is always invidious to pick out any individuals, but perhaps it would not be out of order to mention the mayor of Wolsztyn, Wojtek Lis (who has been doing a great deal of work behind the scenes), and Andrzej Jabłoński, who has been managing the project on behalf of PKP’s Cargo.


Although not in steam at this year’s Steam Parade pacific Piękna Helena had been cleaned by a couple of volunteers. Photo Jo’ny.

Now it only remains for the council members of the three local authorities – Wielkopolska Province, Wolsztyn District, and Wolsztyn Town – to vote on the proposals, and for the agreement to be signed in a blaze of publicity when everybody gets back from their summer holidays.

Friday, January 1 2016, is the target date for the new institute to take over responsibility for the shed, and Saturday 30 April has been tentatively pencilled in as the date of the next Wolsztyn steam parade. Watch this space!

Metro blues

Tuesday, 2 June 2015 by

The Hot Sardines – Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen.
Video TheHotSardinesVEVO.

Perhaps ZTM Warszawa could ask the Hot Sardines to help jazz up the Warsaw Metro?

(With BTWT’s thanks to Piotr Kumelowski for the hot tip!)


Narrow Gauge revival

Friday, 29 May 2015 by

Pleszew railcar in December 2011. Photo Ed Beale.

The beginning of May in Poland is memorable not just for the annual Wolsztyn Parade of Steam locomotives, but for the start of tourist services on Poland’s preserved narrow gauge railways. Most lines run trains just over the weekend, sometimes only a couple of return trips on Sundays.

To the best of our knowledge (please tell us if you know of others!) only three lines operate daily services during the operating season: the Nadmorska Kolej Wąskotorowa, aka the Gryfice Narrow Gauge Railway; the Znin Narrow Gauge Railway; and the Bieszczady Forest Railway. The Bieszczady weekday service runs only in July and August, while the Gryfice and Znin lines run daily from May through to September.


Pleszew Railway timetable 4 May until 13 June 2015.

(Click image to enlarge.)


(B) runs Mondays to Fridays & Sundays (except 4.6.2015)
(D) runs Mondays to Fridays except bank holidays
(E) runs Mondays to Saturdays except bank holidays
(6) runs on Saturdays
(7) runs on Sundays (except 4.6.2015)

All of us a BTWT were surprised and delighted to be told by SKPL that they have brought back daily ordinary passenger services (not tourist services!) on the Pleszew narrow gauge railway, and that funding is in place for the services to run to the end of 2015.

The Pleszew n.g. line is a mixed gauge line – standard gauge and narrow gauge trains share one rail. It is a 3 km fragment of the erstwhile Krotoszyn Narrow Gauge Railway which at its height was nearly 50 km long. The last train ran from Krotoszyn to Pleszew Miasto on 12 January 1986. The line was taken over by the Pleszew Town Council who licensed it to SKPL in 2006. SKPL operate freight trains over the standard gauge tracks from the interchange with the main line to an oil depot in Pleszew.

In February 2013, BTWT reported that passenger services using a diesel railcar operating over the n.g. tracks had been suspended. We are delighted to report that as from 4 May 2015 Poland’s last surviving n.g. regular passenger service is again operational.

Old president’s campaign derails

Monday, 25 May 2015 by

Duda elected president of Poland


Andrzej Duda in April 2013. Photo Piotr Drabik, (CC by 2.0).

All over Poland people got up, switched on their TV sets or radios, and over their morning cups of coffee heard that they had elected the opposition candidate, Andrzej Duda, to be president of Poland. Almost until the last moment, pollsters were predicting a victory for the incumbent, Bronisław Komorowki. But it was not to be. When the election news blackout was lifted at 22:30 exit polls indicated that the newcomer had secured a decisive 6% lead. Shortly before midnight Komorowski conceded defeat.

It had been an election largely fought on negative point scoring. Opponents of President Komorowski, accused him and the governing party, Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska) of employing communist-era officials in key government positions, turning a blind eye to fraud and corruption in high places, and preferring to ignore the problems of ordinary people. Opponents of Duda, ridiculed his membership of the Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość) party which is portrayed by the mainstream media, as a bunch of religious bigots obsessed with the circumstances of the Smolensk aeroplane crash which killed President Lech Kaczyński.

The danger in conducting negative campaigns is that while two candidates tear each other apart, a third can emerge quietly from the wings…  . And so it was that ageing rock musician, Paweł Kukiz, emerged as the surprise youth candidate and garnered over 20% of the vote in the first round of the elections. While Kukiz took no part in the second round, he and his supporters are already gearing up for the parliamentary elections due in October. It seems likely that neither Law and Justice, nor Civic Platform will gain an overall majority in the parliamentary elections and that there will be a coalition government.

Andrzej Duda, born 16 May 1972, is a lawyer and a Member of the European Parliament. He comes from Krakow, the son of Janina Milewska and Jan Tadeusz Duda. His wife, Agata Kornhauser, is a high school German teacher. His father-in-law is Julian Kornhauser, a well-known Polish-Jewish writer, translator and literary critic.

He began his political career with the now-defunct Freedom Union Party (Unia Wolnóści) in the early 2000s, but after the parliamentary elections in 2005, began his collaboration with the Law and Justice Party. In 2010, he was an unsuccessful candidate in the elections for the Mayor of Kraków, but was more successful in the 2011 parliamentary election, where he received 79,981 votes for the Kraków area, becoming a member of the Polish Parliament’s lower house, the Sejm. He did not complete his term, becoming elected in 2014 as a member of the European Parliament.

He was the official candidate of the Law and Justice party for the office of President of Poland in the 2015 Polish presidential elections. He won the election with 52% of the vote. He is President-elect of Poland and will take up the office of President on 6 August 2015.

Great Central Railway wins £10m award

Wednesday, 20 May 2015 by

Bridge to the Future update June 2014. The project to bridge the gap between the two preserved sections of the GCR has now (April 2015) raised £860,000. Video GCRofficial.

Sir Peter Luff, the new chairman of the Heritage Lottery Fund, has announced support worth £98 million for nine projects to preserve Britain’s rich scientific and technological history.

The world’s largest medical collection in London’s Science Museum, one of the earliest factories at Derby Silk Mill, and Cheshire’s ground-breaking Jodrell Bank centre for astronomy are among the sites receiving a share of the money from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Millions of pounds are set to help digitise the British Library’s UK sound collection, while the Great Central Railway, a double-track operational heritage railway between Loughborough and Leicester, will receive funding of £9,999,400 for its Main Line Bridging the Nation project to create a new heritage railway museum in Leicester.

GCR Winter Steam Gala 30 January to 1 February 2015. Video Steaming Around The Midlands.

The new museum will provide secure and weatherproof accommodation for some of the UK’s most iconic locomotives and rolling stock that work or are stored on the GCR, as well as artefacts such as posters, badges and the Newton Photographic Collection.  Uniquely, the operational heritage railway will be an integral part of the museum, enabling visitors to make the connection between exhibits and a real piece of living heritage.

The project will build on an already thriving apprenticeship scheme and involve new volunteers.  There will be a complementary outreach programme which includes plans to make contact with the local Asian community which has strong links to the railway.

Anastazewo to Jablonka, 1939

Wednesday, 20 May 2015 by

by ‘Inzynier’

(continued from: Gniezno District Railway, 1939 – Part 4)

On 5 July 2013, BTWT published the first part of the imaginary diary of a railway enthusiast exploring the magnificent narrow gauge railways of the Kujawy region of Poland in 1939. Carefully researched by ‘Inzynier’ and brilliantly presented by narrow gauge expert Ed Beale, they are an evocative recreation of a lost world.

At the start of the fifth day, we have a very early start to head East from Anastazewo…


A very early postcard view of Anastazewo station.

(Click to see the original image on

Around 5am we are woken from our slumber in the loco depot at Anastazewo as work starts on preparing the loco and train for the 06:00 departure.  Half an hour or so later we start to hear a train approaching from the east and at 05:48 the connecting service from Konin (Tuesdays and Fridays only) rolls across the level crossing and into the station.  The locomotive is another 0-8-0T, bearing the number D1-345, while the train consists of two coaches (but no passengers), the usual van and three open wagons(31).  One of the coaches appears to have been converted from a freight van, while the other is purpose-built.  Mail bags are exchanged between trains (and one goes into the station building), while one of the wagons (presumably loaded, as it is sheeted over) is added to the Gniezno train.

At 06:00 No. 6 and its train depart westward.  D1-345 takes water, shunts the other two wagons into the siding and couples up to the coaches, while the fireman prepares his fire for the journey ahead and the injector sings as the water level rises in the boiler.  Unlike the Gniezno men, this crew from Konin do not have the luxury of a few hours’ sleep before starting the return journey; they ‘clocked on’ quite a few hours ago, set out from their home station at 03:35, and will not get back until 08:35.

All too soon for the fireman it is time to depart and we join the other three passengers who have arrived at the station to board the 06:12 departure.  The train shuffles out of the station (the locomotive is fitted with a spark arrestor on the chimney, which muffles any real ‘chuff’) and back across the road as the next stage of our journey begins(32).


A much more recent departure from Anastazewo, at the turn of the 1980s/90s. Photo Milosz Telesinski.

(Click to see the original image on Baza Kolejowa)

So far all of our travels have been on railways owned and operated by the respective local authorities (Jarocin, Wrzesnia and Gniezno).  Now we are on the state railway system but ironically the locomotive and coaches seem inferior to anything we have previously experienced.  We briefly run alongside the road, cross over it again and run along the other side of it.

After about a kilometre a branch trails in on the right, this is Goslawice sugar factory’s 7 km line to beet loading points at Naprusewo(33).  Our train trundles over a road junction and we find the road is on our right instead of left, but that soon changes when we cross to the other side again.  Various other trackways are crossed and then we leave the road for a while.  Curving to the left we cross a small river and another couple of roadways and arrive at Budzislaw Koscielny halt.  Here another Goslawice sugar factory line trails in, this time from the left and with a loop; it runs 4 km to a loading point at Marszewo(34).


Anastazewo to Budzislaw-Koscielny and branches. Extract from the WIG map of 1935.

(Click to download the full size map. Warning: Very large file)

A small crowd is awaiting the train at Budzislaw and perhaps a dozen people board the train, most carrying baskets full of produce, while those with more bulky goods load them into the van.  Within a minute or so we are on our way again, alongside a road for a couple of kilometres to the next halt at Nieborzyn, where the three waiting passengers quickly climb aboard.

Shortly after the halt, the road crosses to our other side, but roadside running remains the order of the day until we cross over again and then curve away from the road on the approach to Zlotkow.  This halt has a loop and another handful of passengers join the train.  There now follows a fairly straight section across open country, crossing the odd road or watercourse, to Dankow, another halt with a loading siding, at which another couple of passengers board.

Shortly after Dankow comes a pair of tight bends, then we cross a couple of streams and finally cross the road into Jablonka Slupecka, a quite sizeable station with loops and a number of sidings holding various wagons and vans, as well as the line from Sompolno trailing in from the east.  The 14 km from Anastazewo have taken us 53 minutes to cover (16 kph or 10 mph), but the importance of Jablonka is underlined by the fact that the train pauses here for 17 minutes – the loco takes water and the fireman again tends to his fire, while another half dozen or so passengers join the train.  Meanwhile, another 0-8-0T, number D1-332, is shunting wagons from one siding to another(35).

to be continued…


    31) D1-345 was a ‘Brigadelok’ built by Henschel (works number 13312) in 1915 and initially numbered HF 349.  It was amongst the locomotives inherited by PKP when the Kujawy system was taken over after the First World War.  It remained on the system until the Second World War, when it became DR’s 99 1553, but was taken away from the system during that war and nothing further is known about it.

    32) The Anastezewo – Maly Patnow section was built by Goslawice sugar factory in 1912 as a 750mm gauge ‘industrial’ railway.  It was converted to 600mm gauge by the invading Germans in 1914, passenger services later started and the line was taken over by PKP after the First World War.  It was converted back to 750mm gauge in the 1950s, but passenger services west of Jablonka Slupecka ceased in 1954/5.  Jablonka Slupecka – Maly Patnow closed in 1965 as a result of brown coal mining in the area.  Freight traffic on the remaining section gradually declined to zero, but it remained in place as a link between the Gniezno and Sompolno operations.  Following cessation of PKP narrow gauge operations in 2001 it was officially transferred to the Gniezno division, but saw no regular traffic and sections have since been lifted to facilitate further brown coal mining.

    33) Goslawice sugar factory’s branch to Naprusewo was built to 600mm gauge in the 1920s and regauged to 750mm in the 1950s.  It closed in about 1975.

    34) Goslawice sugar factory’s branch to Marszewo was built in the 1920s to 600mm gauge.  It probably closed in the 1950s when the other lines were regauged.

    35) D1-332 was a ‘Brigadelok’ built by Henschel (works number 12557) in 1914 and initially numbered HF 255.  It was amongst the locomotives inherited by PKP when the Kujawy system was taken over after the First World War.  It remained on the system until the Second World War, when it became DR’s 99 1548.  It was taken away from the system during that war but later returned and became PKP’s Tx1-328.  It went to Rogow about 1950, to Mlawa on 1st September 1954 and was withdrawn on 16th November 1955.

Off topic. On message.

Thursday, 7 May 2015 by

Dyspozytor takes a trip down memory lane to his school days and reflects on the UK elections.

Lost domain

A treasure trove of transport history. The River Thames (bottom right) has been a transport route since before the Romans invaded Britain. The Roman road from London to Bath (left bottom to mid right) was by-passed by the Great West Road which itself was superseded by the M4 motorway. The canalised River Brent  (top left to bottom right) was opened in 1798 as part of the Grand Junction Canal. The area comprising both banks of the canal to the north of Brentford Locks was the canal company’s Brentford Dock. The last commercial traffic on this section of the canal ceased around 1980.

The London & South Western Railway’s line from Barnes to Hounslow (lower left to upper right) opened in 1849 and is still open for passenger services. The Great Western Railway’s Brentford Branch, opened in 1859, was the last commission of Brunel, the GWR’s chief engineer. The whole triangular built up area to the south of Thames Locks was the GWR’s Brentford Dock. The Dock closed in December 1964.

The Great West Road (mid left to top right) from Hounslow to Kew was opened around 1930. The remaining section from Kew in Middlesex to the Cromwell Road in London completed in the 1950s. The eastern section of the M4 motorway (top left to top right) from Slough to the Chiswick flyover was opened in 1965. The white oblong on the right is the Griffin Park ground of Brentford Football Club.

Satellite view courtesy Google Maps. Click the image to open an interactive map of this area on Google Maps.

Today, Parliamentary elections are being held in the United Kingdom. What have football and party politics got in common? Both are capable of generating enormous levels of passion, both – in spite of the media hype – seem to leave a large portion of the population stone cold. I first noted the similarities between the two as a schoolboy.

Let us start at the beginning. In the early 1960s, whenever I could get away from school, much of my time was spent on the Grand Union (formerly Grand Junction) canal at Brentford where – having made friends with the lock-keeper at Lock 99 – I became his unofficial deputy. I had discovered the canal, the lock and my friendly lock keeper while on a cycle ride to explore the ex Great Western Railway Brentford branch line.


Almost the entire section of the Brentford branch line that lies to the north-east of the Great West Road is visible in this photograph. It shows the area as it was in 1953. The Imperial Biscuit Works is the factory on the extreme left – it had its own siding as did Firestone Rubber Tyre factory in the foreground. This building with its iconic Art Deco frontage was demolished during the August 1980 bank holiday weekend before it could be listed.

Lock 99 of the Grand Union Canal is visible on the extreme right and Brentford Town Goods Depot is in the middle distance. Those with a keen eye will spot the Great Western main line and Wharncliffe Viaduct which carries the line over the River Brent valley. Photo ©Historic England.

(Click the image to see the original on the Historic England website and for details regarding reuse.)

At 07:00 each morning during the holidays, I would help to lock through 6 or 7 lighters (unpowered barges) that had been waiting below Lock 99 while their two-man crews (tractor driver and steerer) had breakfast at the café serving the Firestone Tyre factory.

Already the narrow boat pairs (motor boat and unpowered butty) heading for Birmingham had left the British Waterways Brentford Dock and locked through Lock 99, before the lock-keeper had come on duty. They were in a hurry to clear the 6 lock Hanwell Flight before the lighters began to move.

On Friday afternoons I was allowed to leave school early and as often as no cycling along the canal in the late afternoon, I would see a pannier tank haul a train of coal wagons along the branch where it ran parallel to the canal.

And so at an early age my life became linked with two transport routes that were on the way out: the railway to Brentford Docks and the Grand Union Canal. Meanwhile the M4 motorway was being cut through one of the lakes of Osterley Park and taken over Boston Manor Park on an ugly steel viaduct.

My lock keeper friend took me to see the run down Brentford Docks just before they closed in December 1964. The tractor-hauled lighters carried their loads up to Hanwell and Southall until the closure of London Docks. Long distance narrowboat carrying along the Grand Union continued on a small until the closure of Blisworth Tunnel for major engineering work in 1980.

It was easy to see even at my tender age that a tiny tractor pulling a barge loaded with 80 tons of cargo, or a pair of narrow boats carrying 50 tons between them with the motor boat powered by a single cylinder Bolinger engine, or an ex GWR 0-6-0PT 57xx class loco pulling 25 coal wagons, were all burning much less fossil fuel than if the same loads were being carried by heavy lorries. Likewise it did not require a Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree from Oxford to see connect the dots when a Minister of Transport called Ernest Marples was promoting a switch from rail to road while his wife’s company, Marples Ridgeway, was building motorways.

Biscuits and Firestone

The Great West Road, looking from Osterley towards the Brentford Dock branch line in 1931. The Imperial Biscuit Works is the first factory on the left and Firestone Rubber Tyre factory is far distance. Photo ©Historic England.

(Click on the image to see it on the Historic England website and for details of re-use.)

During the 1960s, a great deal of effort was expended explaining to the general public that railways make a loss and road transport is ‘more economic’ to justify the wholesale destruction of Britain’s railways. A great deal less was said then, and has been said since, about the way that this economic argument is slanted against railways which in the UK, as in Poland, are expected to bear their capital and maintenance costs – a charge which is not made on the balance sheet of road transport. If the environmental and health costs of unbridled road expansion are taken into account the case for investing in railways becomes even stranger.

Ever wondered why in countries such as Austria and Switzerland which do put their roads and railways on the same financial footing it still ‘pays’ to transport rail freight by the wagonload and also carry it over their extensive networks of narrow gauge railways.

In 1993, Britain’s railways were broken up into over 90 companies and privatised. Poland’s railways are undergoing a similar process and the privatisation of PKP Energytyka – responsible for supplying the traction current – and PKP Informatyka – responsible for PKP’s computer services – is being rushed through with indecent haste.

Not surprisingly the ‘reform’ pushed up costs and made long-distance ‘walk-on’ fares too expensive for ordinary people who switched coach services. Since those days the major political parties have produced a great deal of hot air – usually while in opposition – about making railway services more affordable for passengers and switching freight from road to rail. These promises are quickly forgotten as soon as the opposition party is elected to government.

Which brings me back to the football analogy at the start of today’s post. While the fans roar their support for one or other side, the real action is taking place off the pitch. Who will invest in the club? Which players should be bought? What will the sponsor want for his money?

As it is with football so it is with mainstream politics. If you share my concern for the destruction wrought by the UK’s pro road transport policy and have still not cast your vote, why not fire a shot across the bows of the mainstream political parties and cast a vote for the Green Party?

EPSON scanner image

The site of Brentford GWR station in 1961. Note the overhead wires for providing the traction current for trolleybuses. The footbridge to the British Waterways office at Lock 100 can just be discerned under the railway bridge, Photo ©Ben Brooksbank.

(Click on image for details of licensing.)


Wither Wolsztyn?

Tuesday, 5 May 2015 by

Wolsztyn’s 22nd annual steam locomotive parade had just three working locos!

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This Chabówka driver in charge of 0-6-0T Tkh49-1 was not the only person trying to figure out what was going on. Photo Marta Goltz.

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The non-working ‘awaiting overhaul’ engines were left in the shed, making photography difficult. Photo Jan Borzuchowski.

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The joy of Wolsztyn. Hands up who remembers when UK shed open days were like this? Photo Marta Goltz.

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Shy film star. Curiously, a tent blocked off the possibility of a proper ‘head-on’ photo of Ok1-359. The loco has appeared in many films including Roman Polanski’s Oscar-winning “The Pianist”. Photo Jan Borzuchowski.

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While members of the public were permitted to explore nearly all the engines, Ok1-359 was awarded star treatment ond its footplate was a strictly ‘no-go’ area. Photo Jan Borzuchowski.

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Given a properly dried out boiler and generous doses of oil a steam loco will last forever. Ok1-359 was built by BMAG in 1917, and was last steamed in 2009. Photo Jan Borzuchowski.

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Good practice – a pragmatic attitude to health and safety, with the running lines securely protected. Poor practice – Ty1-76 like many other historic steam locomotives is kept out in the open all the year round. Photo Jan Borzuchowski.

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Thousands have come to see the engines, but only three locos appear at the parade: Wolsztyn only ‘in-ticket’ loco Ol49-69, and Chabówka’s 2-10-2T Okz32-2 and 0-6-oT Tkh49-1.

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What does the future bode for Wolsztyn – a clear road ahead or storm clouds gathering? Photo Jan Borzuchowski.

Many thanks to BTWT’s guest photographers. Jan Borzuchowski and Marta Goltz. Also special thanks to all our friends in PKP Cargo without whose assistance this report would have been impossible.

To be continued/…




Invisible destinations, invisible trains…

Saturday, 4 April 2015 by


The 1922 rebuilding of Waterloo Station in London by the London & South Western Railway Company brought order and purpose into what had been a rambling and confusing building. From a Southern Railway poster published shortly before the nationalisation of Britain’s railways.

Travelling by train used to be an adventure.

We got to Waterloo at eleven, and asked where the eleven-five started from.  Of course nobody knew; nobody at Waterloo ever does know where a train is going to start from, or where a train when it does start is going to, or anything about it.  The porter who took our things thought it would go from number two platform, while another porter, with whom he discussed the question, had heard a rumour that it would go from number one.  The station-master, on the other hand, was convinced it would start from the local.

To put an end to the matter, we went upstairs, and asked the traffic superintendent, and he told us that he had just met a man, who said he had seen it at number three platform.  We went to number three platform, but the authorities there said that they rather thought that train was the Southampton express, or else the Windsor loop.  But they were sure it wasn’t the Kingston train, though why they were sure it wasn’t they couldn’t say.


PKP IC TLK train at Lodz Kaliska. But is it my train? Photo BTWT.

Then our porter said he thought that must be it on the high-level platform; said he thought he knew the train.  So we went to the high-level platform, and saw the engine-driver, and asked him if he was going to Kingston.  He said he couldn’t say for certain of course, but that he rather thought he was.  Anyhow, if he wasn’t the 11.5 for Kingston, he said he was pretty confident he was the 9.32 for Virginia Water, or the 10 a.m. express for the Isle of Wight, or somewhere in that direction, and we should all know when we got there.  We slipped half-a-crown into his hand, and begged him to be the 11.5 for Kingston.

“Nobody will ever know, on this line,” we said, “what you are, or where you’re going.  You know the way, you slip off quietly and go to Kingston.”

“Well, I don’t know, gents,” replied the noble fellow, “but I suppose some train’s got to go to Kingston; and I’ll do it.  Gimme the half-crown.”

Thus we got to Kingston by the London and South-Western Railway.

We learnt, afterwards, that the train we had come by was really the Exeter mail, and that they had spent hours at Waterloo, looking for it, and nobody knew what had become of it.

From Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K Jerome, 1889.


Changing the printed timetable is a major exercise. Photo BTWT.

Travelling by train in Poland is still an adventure. Surprisingly there is a dearth of information at the point of departure. Printed timetables do not always have details of all intermediate stations and quickly become out of date. The information on main and auxiliary indicator boards is often incomplete. The on-line timetable is probably the safest bet. But, not always.


Auxiliary departure board at Warszawa Centralna in 2013. There was no indication that the 15:49 and 16:16 to Lodz Kaliska also stopped at Lodz Widzew and Lodz Chojny. Photo BTWT.

(Click to expand to see details.)

A couple of years ago the Zuławy Railway – a preserved fragment of the once extensive narrow gauge  railway network serving the coastal region near Gdańsk – arranged with Arriva to run a number of trains to connect with its tourist trains. Arriva arranged the train paths with infrastructure manager, PKP PLK, and PLK passed on the details to PKP subsidiary, TK Telekom, and the new trains duly appeared in the national railway timetable.

All went well, until PLK, decided to change the times of the paths that it was making available for the new services. Arriva changed the times of its trains, but TK Telekom, which was not contracted to make an intermediate timetable correction, did not change its timetable. During the Zuławy Railway operating season, intending passengers turned up to catch the Arriva trains only to find out that their trains had already gone.

lost trains

Fragment of TLK Telekom page showing the rogue results of a query for a service from Krakow Glowny to Warszawa Centralna on 19 April 2015.

In spite of such gremlins, many still consider TK Telekom to be the definitive source of timetable information. The company hosts two timetable query pages: its original service,, and a newer service, The former is rather old-fashioned, but provides much useful information, including real time tracking, about selected trains. The latter is much easier to use on a mobile phone, but is much less informative.

So when one of BTWT’s regular readers was researching a trip to Krakow in a couple of weeks time it was entirely appropriate that he started by looking up the time of trains on the original TK Telekom website. He had intended to fly in via Katowice on Thursday evening, 16 April and to go back via Warsaw on the Sunday 19 April. Much to his surprise he found (see screen grab above) that there were no suitable connections.

There was a 08:42 TLK train which was timetabled to do the Warsaw journey (via Katowice, Czestochowa and Piotrkow Trybunalski) in 9 hours and 1 minute! The next direct service (and the only one to do the journey in a reasonable time) was the 15:08 EIP.

Accordingly, he decided to forgo his planned trip to Warsaw and afternoon flight back to Heathrow, and to fly out on Sunday morning direct from Krakow. Having booked his plane ticket, he was playing around with PKP IC’s own ticketing portal. Imagine his chagrin when he discovered several additional Sunday services from Krakow to Warsaw that suddenly appeared which had not shown up when he queried the TK Telekom timetable. (See below.)

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PKP IC e-ticketing system showing additional morning trains from Krakow Glowny to Warszawa Centralna on 19 April.

In fact, there is a very good service from Krakow to Warsaw on Sunday mornings. Services include the 10:06 EIP (journey time 2 hours 26 minutes), the 10:44 TLK (2hrs. 51 min.) and the 12:07 EIC (2hrs. 27 min.).

So is the PKP IC portal better than TK Telekom’s? Well not necessarily. I have seen the PKP IC service display ‘ghost trains’ which do not actually run on the day queried. A more frequent problem is when the system refuses to show the price of available tickets, or to process a ticket sale.

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PKP IC e-ticketing system unable to provide ticket prices for the 17:35 EIP, the 18:35 EIP and the 19:15 TLK trains from Warszawa Centralna to Krakow Glowny at 08:26 on 24 Febuary.

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PKP IC e-ticketing system unable to complete a ticket purchase for the 11:35 EIP from Warszawa Centralna to Krakow Glowny at 08:26 on 24 Febuary.

(Click to expand.)

With a fierce warning on the bottom of the page that anyone caught on a Pendolino train without a ticket will be fined 650PLN (118 GBP), the PKP IC ticketing system does not leave the would be Pendolino traveller with a warm fuzzy feeling. Maybe the marketing team at PKP IC could learn a thing or two from the bright young chaps at PolskiBus?

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Screen capture showing a part of the PolskiBus home page.

PKP InterCity – strategy masterstroke!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015 by


Where the new strategy was developed – PKP IC HQ in ul. Zelażna, Warsaw. Photo By Adrian Grycuk (CC BY-SA 3.0 pl), via Wikimedia Commons.

How to make PKP IC profitable? That was the question that new PKP IC boss, Jacek Leonkiewicz, set his best brains to solve. The challenge is formidable, at the top end of the market – served by the EIC and EICP (Pendolino) services – the carrier is facing stiff competition from the domestic airlines and the private motor car. In the lower end of the market – served by the TLK services – the train operating company is losing passengers as a result of the bargain basement tactics of PolskiBus and its me too imitators.

With the company stuck between a rock and a hard place, the solution dreamt up by the best brains in PKP IC is stunning. Not for them the complexities of BTWT’s own 10-point reform plan. No, the PKP IC solution stands out in its brilliance and simplicity: in the timetable changes, to be introduced towards the end of 2015, journey times for TLK trains will be extended!

But, dear reader, I can hear you protest, won’t even more TLK passengers desert as a result? Precisely! When it can shown that the TLK sector is a declining business, more trains can be withdrawn, or the sector can be closed down completely. With less expensive trains to run – PKP IC’s finances will improve dramatically!

A big hat tip to Rynek Kolejowy for today’s story.

Postcard from Guatemala by Piotr Kumelowski

Monday, 30 March 2015 by

At first sight, Guatemala and Poland have little in common, yet both both countries have travelled a difficult and painful path to achieve national sovereignty and democracy. In both, trains are associated in mind of the public with a period it would rather forget, and the the road lobby has made the most of this to deal a heavy blow to their railways. Sadly in the case of Guatamala, the damage seems to have been fatal. Piotr Kumelowski reports from his trip to Guatemala in February 2015. [Dyspozytor]



The author posing by IRCA 204, 2-8-2 built as 74134 by Baldwin in 11/1948. Photo Piotr Kumelowski collection.

Despite its obvious advantages, rail has lost the battle with road in yet another country – Guatemala. Before we shrug our shoulders and dismiss this Central American country as a ‘typical banana republic’ – it is worth becoming acquainted with some interesting facts. The origins of the local railways date back to the last two decades of the nineteenth century. One of the companies served the extensive coffee plantations run by German settlers. At the beginning of the twentieth century, several independent concerns were consolidated as the state-owned Ferrocarriles de Guatemala, whose 3-foot (914 mm) gauge lines reached both oceans as well as the Mexican and Salvadoran borders, a network of some 800 km.


The railways of Guatemala. Map Bill Metzger/RDC.

The zenith of the Guatemalan railways occurred in the period 1912 – 1954, when the lines found themselves in the hands of the United Fruit Company – a giant citrus producer. Under the name of ‘International Railways of Central America’ (IRCA) – the infrastructure, rolling stock, procedures and frequency of trains reached a North American standard. The railways transported tropical fruits for export, serviced virtually the all imports, ran regular passenger services (providing hotels and restaurants) and carried the mail. They were a real link with the outside world and a herald of technical progress.

In 1954, as a result of antitrust legislation in the United States, the United Fruit Company got rid of its railways which were acquired by government.  That date also marks the start of an extensive programme of road construction. In 1996, the whole railway – known as FEGUA – was definitively closed. But was not the end. Like the fairy godmother in Cinderella, the Railway Development Corporation, a USA ‘short line’ operator, appears on the scene and achieves a miracle. After negotiating a concession to operate the railway from  the government, the company overcame numerous technical difficulties to restore to life a devastated, but most commercially promising, 320 km segment of the network from the Atlantic to the capital of Puerto Barrios (4 million inhabitants).

Ferrocarriles de Guatemala (FEGUA y Ferrovias). Video Saúl Lima Díaz

Alarmed, the road haulage lobby used a whole series of dirty tricks to make life as difficult as possible for the ‘Yankees’ and to get rid of a competitor. By 2007, they had achieved their objectives, and the recently revived rail transport of steel, cement, paper, oil, bananas and containers died. Today, all that is left is a haunted rusting fleet of rolling stock and locomotives, while track and steel civil engineering structures are stolen more and more brazenly and the highways become ever more jammed with huge used trucks imported from the USA. Something of interest remains – the Museo del Ferrocarril in the capital. Ironically it was partially set up by the Americans.

Sin Nombre – mile post 177-78

Sin Nombre viaduct at mile post 177.78. Photo courtesy Jorge Senn/Railroad Heritage.




Railway photography in Poland

Saturday, 21 March 2015 by

Old gentleman

The Railway Children’s ‘The Old Gentleman’. Frame grab courtesy Studio Canal.

Railway photographers lead dangerous lives. All too often they are arrested, their cameras taken away from them and their photos deleted. We asked Dyspozytor how he deals with jobsworth officials interfering with his railway photography in Poland. We have no hesitation in recommending either his regretful approach, ‘I’m awfully sorry. I’m from England. I didn’t know your railway was a strategic installation of military importance.’ or his more apologetic, ‘Thank you for pointing out that I was trespassing. I am very sorry. Now let that be the end of the matter’. However, the last technique he describes here seems to us to be downright dangerous and should not be attempted by anyone who does not at least possess a black belt in the martial arts.

Rule 1. Remain calm and collected at all times.

Let the ‘Old Gentleman’, so brilliantly portrayed by William Mervyn in the 1970 film adaptation of The Railway Children, be your role model.

My first brush against Polish officialdom occurred in 1965, or was it perhaps a year or two earlier? I was a schoolboy and had gone to Stepnica, a tiny port on the Szczecin Lagoon served by a couple of sidings on a branch of the then massive metre gauge railway network centred on Gryfice. I took a couple of shots of an engine at the head of a train at the station.

There are few signs that the port and town of Stepnica were once served by a railway. Satellite photo courtesy of Google Maps.

The station master caught me and delivered a lecture that the railway was a strategic instillation of military significance and that he should call the police. I countered that in the UK we did not regard narrow gauge railways as having any significance at all other than as tourist attractions and apologised profusely.

I was allowed to keep my camera and my film. I used a similar tactic and obtained the same outcome when challenged after photographing a tram depot near Warszawa Wschodnia station in the 1970s.

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Sanok station July 2010. Dyspozytor had strayed off the platform on the left. Photo (GRAD). Licence CC BY-SA 3.0.

But that was then – when Poland was in thrall to the Soviet empire, and paranoia reigned on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Today Polish law has changed. You are allowed to take photographs of trains and railways, but not trespass on railway property.

In 1990, I was with Michael Dembinski (author of W-wa Jeziorki blog) waiting at a level crossing to photograph a Tkt48 pulling a train consisting of a couple of double decker coaches. The level crossing attendant ranted at us that photography of railway lines was prohibited. Michael retorted in his best Jeremy Clarkson manner that the days of communism were over. Which leads me neatly to:

Rule 2. Be firm and stick to your guns.

A few years ago, I was wandering around taking photographs of Sanok station, which was – and still is – served by only a handful of trains a day. I stepped off the platform to get the whole of the station in the frame, shot a set of photographs and found myself facing a member of the Straź Ochrony Kolei (Railway Police).

He told me that I was breaking the law, that he would call the police and would face all sorts of unspecified punishments. I told him that there was no law against taking photographs of the railway. He told me that I was trespassing on railway land and that he would call the police and that I would face… . I thanked him for pointing this out and for having told me off, and told him that I accepted his rebuke and told him that that should be the end of the matter.

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Warszawa 06:25 on December 14 2014 . Shortly after taking this photo in available light (no flash) Dyspoztytor was challenged by a uniformed member of the SOK (Railway Police). Photo BTWT.

We repeated this scene some three or four times. I then pointed out that he had done his job and I needed to get going. I suspect that he had hoped for a bribe. With none forthcoming, he left. The next time I was challenged by a member of the Straz Kolejowy, I did not let him off so lightly, which brings me round to my last rule:

Rule No. 3. The best form of defence is attack!

On the morning of December 14 2014, shortly before travelling on the first ever public Pendolino service from Warsaw to Krakow, I was accosted by a member of the SOK and asked whether I had a permit to take photographs. All around me TV crews were setting up, people were snapping away as if there was no tomorrow, yet this SOKista had the nerve to pick on an old gentleman barely supporting himself on a walking stick – me!


Henry the Pious before his defeat and beheading at the Battle of Legnica in 1241. From a painting by Jan Matejko.

I saw red. My blood pressure rose past all safe limits. I was trying to change the course of history and fighting the Battle of Legnica all over again, defending civilisation against the hordes from the East. What! I spluttered. Today, everybody in Poland should be rejoicing that at last Polish Railways have taken a cautious step forward into the future, and YOU are behaving as if we were still living under communism!

I had reached the most dangerous moment, the man’s temper was rising. The list of remedies available to members of SOK reads like something out of Fifty Shades of Grey: physical force, weighted baton, handcuffs, tear gas grenade, police dog, Walther P99 and Taser. It was time to go in for the kill, Tell me Sir, when did you last go to confession?

Defeated by an old gentleman with a walking stick, the SOKista beat a hasty retreat.

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Tp3-3, former Prussian Railways G8 class, built Hanomag 2013, active PKP service 1945-1970, displayed as a ‘technical monument’ at Zbąszynek from 1988. Note pile of coal in foreground and shadow cast by the sun. Photo BTWT.

My last run in with the SOK occurred just 5 days ago on 17 March at Zbąszynek. I was with a friend, we were returning from Wolsztyn, where we had been guests at a lunch given by the Mayor of Wolsztyn in honour of the British Ambassador on the occasion of his visit to the Steam Locomotive Depot.

We were both smartly dressed and talking – quite loudly I suspect – in English. It was 15:15, the sun was shining brightly from the South West and we both walked off the end of the platform to get a good view of the Ex Prussian Railway G8 0-8-0 plinthed just off the neighbouring platform.

After I had taken my photographs, we were approached by a couple of SOKisci. It appeared one of them objected that we were wandering too close to a pile of coal. The last part of our conversation went something like this.

Me Zbąszynek should be celebrating its railway heritage not harassing tourists!

SOKista Why are you raising your voice?

Me Because I object to being told off for taking a photograph of a unique Prussian Railways locomotive.

SOKista You can take your photo from the other platform. I am just telling you that you should not be wandering around in the vicinity of the heap of coal.

Me So you you think that I am planning to take the coal away in my jacket pocket? I cannot take a photograph against the sun. I object most strongly to you lecturing me.

SOKista I am not lecturing you… 


SOKisci are human too! Taking photos of the first ever public Pendolino working to Krakow in 14 December 2014. Photo BTWT.

[Here comes the critical moment, the SOKista has as good as admitted defeat, and has delivered his last two lines with a broad grin on his face. Time to let him off the hook, and to show that I understand that he has to work in a wider environment with regulations and bosses.]

Me That as maybe. But I am lecturing YOU. Please tell your boss that, if Zabąszynek is to be a proper custodian of a unique locomotive of world-class importance, photographers should be welcomed not harassed.

And that was the end of the matter. When it became clear that our EIC train from Berlin to Warsaw was lost somewhere in Germany, and that it would be prudent to take the next KW stopping train to Poznan, the SOKisci, seeing my walking stick, guided us politely over the barrow crossing to the platform where the stopping train was waiting. Perhaps things are getting better on PKP after all?


British Ambassador drives Ol49-69!

Wednesday, 18 March 2015 by

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Left to right: British Ambassador, Robin Barnett; Shed Manager, Mariusz Kokornaczyk; and Mayor of Wolsztyn, Wojtek Lis. Photo BTWT.

The mood is sombre in Wolsztyn these days: the regular pair of scheduled steam passenger workings has been suspended for a whole year; only one locomotive, Ol49-69, is in ticket; Leszno depot is due to close and its engineering facilities will be lost; idle drivers sit around grumbling, and contemplate early retirement.

The negotiations between the main decision-makers seem to have ground to a halt. While a breath of optimism was injected into the negotiations when it was announced that the plan to form a commercial company to run the depot was being superseded by a project to set up a cultural institute (BTWT 8 May 2014) instead, the reality is that the various local authorities just do not have the financial resources to pay the annual subsidies that the PKP Cargo business plan envisages.

An ugly game of  one-upmanship seems to be being played out. The original suspension of steam services last March took place when the Chief Executive of Wielkopolska provincial government felt that PKP Cargo were dragging out the negotiations, since then a majority of PKP Cargo shares has been sold and Cargo is effectively a private company. Responsibility for maintaining Poland’s steam heritage sits uncomfortably alongside the company’s commercial aspirations.

Now it is PKP Cargo that is keen to speed up negotiations – a fortnight ago the Mayor’s office was informed that unless the local authorities signed up to the business plan there would be no Parada Parowozow (Wolsztyn’s annual parade of steam locomotives) this year.

At a few minutes past 10:00 on Tuesday 17 March, Robin Barnett, CMG, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Poland, swept into this forbidding environment like a breath of fresh air. His enthusiasm was infectious and provided a much-needed morale boost to all those who accompanied him around the shed. The British Ambassador came to Wolsztyn at the invitation of Wojtek Lis, the Mayor of Wolsztyn, and a passionate enthusiast of steam locomotives since his student days.

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Robin Barnett says a few words for the benefit of the press.
Photo BTWT.

Though the Ambassador spoke in Polish, thanks to the help of the British Embassy, we managed to obtain a copy of his speech in English.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would just like to say a few words to thank those people who worked so hard to make my visit to Wolsztyn and its historic locomotive depot possible. I have always been a fan of steam trains. When I was in Poland under communism one of my hobbies was to travel to the south of Poland to ride on PKP steam trains and taking illegal photos. I even took the train that passed through the USSR without requiring
a visa. So I would like to say a special thank you to the Mayor of Wolsztyn, Mr Wojtek Lis for inviting me to Wolsztyn and letting me revisit the sights and smells of my first time in Poland.

I would also like to thank Mr Mariusz Kokornaczyk, the shed master for putting one of his historic locomotives in steam and answering all my questions. I need to learn more specialised vocabulary po polsku!

I would also like to congratulate the PKP group and more specifically, PKP Cargo, the custodians of Wolsztyn locomotive depot, for recognising the unique heritage value of the depot and its locomotives and for preserving the complex as a going concern for the benefit of future generations.

I have been told that talks are in progress between PKP Cargo, the Marszałek’s office, the Starosta and your Burmistrz regarding setting up a new entity to secure the long-term future of the shed. I very much hope that these negotiations will soon reach a successful conclusion. The Wolsztyn depot, its engines and its trains, are not only a wonderful Polish asset with huge potential to attract tourists – they are also important in the European context.

Finally, while today is all about railway heritage, I would like to say a few words about the future of railways. The future is all about integrated transport systems. Roads will always play a vital role but they are increasingly full in many places and have environmental implications. So rail is an essential ingredient of any successful transport strategy. Freight trains, commuter trains, light rail and PKPs impressive new Pendolino will all be crucial for Poland’s future economic growth.

Today Britain’s railways transport more passengers than at any time since the Second World War. We are well on the way to completing Crossrail – Europe’s biggest urban infrastructure project, a 15 billion pound project to improve commuter services by constructing a new railway under London. We are also about to embark on HS2, a 43 billion pound project to build a new high-speed railway from the London to the north.

Helped by almost 8 billion of EU funding between now and 2020, I am certain that Poland’s railways will also experience a great renaissance, which will give me great pleasure. I have to admit though that, much though I have enjoyed using Pendolino, for me, my heart will always be with steam.

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Robin Barnett about to have his driving lesson. Photo BTWT.

The highlight of the Ambassador’s visit to the locomotive depot was when, armed with a PKP Cargo footplate pass, he mounted the footplate of Ol49-69 and, after having had the controls explained to him by Howard Jones of the Wolsztyn Experience, he then – under the eagle eye of one of the Ol49’s regular drivers – gradually opened the regulator and took the loco for a spin down the loco yard.

Wol RB-5212

With Robin Barnett at the controls Ol49-69 accelerates down the depot yard. Photo BTWT.

Polish TV’s TeleExpress crew were there to record every detail of the trip and a splendid piece went out that day on Poland’s main TV channel giving the shed – and everybody’s hopes for the return of daily steam workings – a terrific plug. Even PKP Cargo got into the mood and their Press spokesman, Mirosław Kuk, announced that the twenty-second annual Steam Locomotive Parade in Wolsztyn WILL take place this year on May 2!

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 Ambassador triumphant! Photo BTWT.


Poland – worst international rail connections in Central Europe

Monday, 23 February 2015 by


International rail connections between the capitals of Central Europe. Graphic courtesy Centre for Sustainable Transport (CZT).

(Click image to access source material – in Polish – on CTZ website.)

Notwithstanding various European Commission initiatives to create a ‘connected Europe’, and to encourage a modal shift to rail, Poland’s international rail connections are pretty dire. Now the ‘Man in Seat 61‘ reports how international connections from Wroclaw Glowny have been slashed.


Should Wroclaw be stripped of its 2016 European City of Culture status?

First the Berlin-Wroclaw-Krakow sleeper train got cut.  Then the Berlin-Wroclaw-Krakow daytime EuroCity train Wawel got cut back to Berlin-Wroclaw.  Then it disappeared completely in December 2014, a civilised train replaced by 5 hours strapped to a bus seat, as if Wroclaw was not a major city, but a remote village far distant from the European rail network.  In a month or two, all Dresden-Wroclaw regional trains will be cut, unbelievably (a) leaving a 2km gap across the border between rail services on either side and (b) leaving Wroclaw with no direct trains whatsoever to or from Germany & the West. Can such a remote and inaccessible village possibly be European City of Culture 2016?  Perhaps the title should be reallocated to a city people can actually get to…  Wroclaw needs to wake up and reassert its need for proper links to the rest of Europe.

A hat tip to Chris White and Podrożnik for today’s stories.


Hopes for daily steam return at Wolsztyn…

Thursday, 19 February 2015 by

Ride on a wing and a prayer

Wolsztyn 120806-1010530010526

Ol49-69 at Wolsztyn station having just completed its second turn from Poznan on a scorching hot 6 August 2012. Photo BTWT.

The project (see: BTWT 8 May 2014) to create a cultural institute to take over the Wolsztyn engine shed and safeguard its long-term future has run into trouble. Either the agreement between PKP Cargo and the various local authorities will be so watered down so as to fudge the question as to how much actual cash will be invested by the latter in the project, or the scheme in its current form is a dead duck. With local authorities all over Poland finding it difficult to make their budgets balance it does rather seem that the return of daily steam-hauled passenger workings by locomotives stabled at Wolsztyn shed may not be as certain as once thought.


Part of Woltur’s home page on the WWW.

So, in the light of this bleak news, the announcement that the town of Wolsztyn, various small local authorities and the Wolsztyn Experience have all agreed to invest in a brand new tourist product – Woltur – comes like a breath of fresh air. Woltur has been set up by Patryk Szkopiec of IRPiK, the same organisation that runs Turkol, the long distance steam specials that run approximately once a month. Now, with Woltur’s local steam services supplementing TurKol’s long-distance specials, there will be steam activities every week in the summer season.

An important partner in the new venture is Przewozy Regionalne, the train operating company that will be actually running the trains and thanks to whose assistance passengers will be able to ride the Woltur services with tickets charged according to PR’s InterREGIO tariff. Congratulations from us at BTWT to everyone involved in setting up Woltur, and here’s hoping the new product is hugely successful and will prove to be one step on the way to restoring daily scheduled steam services to Wolsztyn.




Locos on the move

Monday, 16 February 2015 by

1255 - Lorry

Ol49-61 after arriving at Dzierzoniow. Photo: John Savery

Ol49-61 now has a new home.  After many years languishing in Elk, the loco has now moved south, albeit on the back of a low loader.

Its new home from 8 February is Dzierzoniow, in Dolny Śląsk, at the former locomotive depot.  The former depot is to become an outpost of Muzeum Techniki i Przemysłu, which is based in Jaworzyna Śląsk.


Ol49-61 being readied for unloading. Photo: John Savery

The Ol49 joins TKt48-72, which was formerly at Jarocin.  Both locomotives were purchased at the PKP Nieruchomosci tender in 2014, along with a number of other vehicles, including Ol49-102 and Ol49-9.

The state of the loco’s meant a road move was preferable.  Given that the loading gauge on Poland’s roads is less than the rail loading gauge, the highest parts had to be removed for the trip, and were carried on the bed of the low loader.

1258 - Chimney and smoke deflectors

Items that put the load out of gauge for the Polish road system were taken off prior to the move. Photo: John Savery

Ol49-9 has also made the move in the past few days, with Ol49-102 expected to follow shortly.


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