Invisible destinations, invisible trains…

Saturday, 4 April 2015 by

timetable-SR

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.

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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.

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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.

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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, old.rozklad-pkp.pl, and a newer service, rozklad-pkp.pl. 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.)

PKP_IC results

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.

PKP IC prices7

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.

PKP IC e-ticketing

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?

Polski bus

Screen capture showing a part of the PolskiBus home page.

PKP InterCity – strategy masterstroke!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015 by

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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]

 

Baldwin

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.

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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.

 

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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.

Sanok Station-2010

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!

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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… 

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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?

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British Ambassador drives Ol49-69!

Wednesday, 18 March 2015 by

Wol RB-5196

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.

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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.

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Poland – worst international rail connections in Central Europe

Monday, 23 February 2015 by

plcutofffromworld

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.

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Hopes for daily steam return at Wolsztyn…

Thursday, 19 February 2015 by

Ride on a wing and a prayer

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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.

Woltur

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Sławomir Żałobka appointed UnderSecretary for Rail and Air!

Monday, 9 February 2015 by

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Żałobka’s new workplace. Photo courtesy Google Street View

The office customarily occupied by the Minister responsible for Polish Railways has from today (9.2.15) a new occupant, Sławomir Żałobka. The office has been empty since 18 December when Żałobka’s predecessor, Zbigniew Klepacki was sacked by Prime Minister, Ewa Kopacz, as part of her review of government ministers.

Undersecretary of State Slawomir Żałobka studied Law and Administration at the University of Warsaw. He has been a civil servant for many years. He has worked the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Education, the Office of the Prime Minister and the Office of the Civil Service. He was also a member of the Public Procurement Council, and acted as an arbiter in disputes involving public procurement.

BTWT sees Żałobka’s appointment as a consequence of Prime Minister Kopacz wanting a ‘safe pair of hands’ in a position that has the potential to embarrass the Government. At least one of Żałobka’s predecessors was sacked for being too ‘pro-rail’.

BTWT rescue plan for PKP IC

Wednesday, 21 January 2015 by

An open letter to the new PKP InterCity chairman.

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Pendolino trainset prepares to reverse out of its platform at Krakow Glowny having formed the first ever Polish Pendolino public service train to Krakow: the 06:35 from Warszawa Centralna on 14.12.14. Photo BTWT.

Dear Jacek,

I hope that you don’t mind me addressing you as ‘Jacek’ rather than ‘Mr Leonkiewicz’. As you have worked in London for two years, I am sure that you are used to the English custom of business colleagues addressing each by their first names, and – although you have only worked in the railway industry for two years – I wanted to recognize you as a fellow railway professional. In fact I think that the brevity of your sojourn in PKP will work to your advantage – you will not yet have been infected by the cynicism that eventually saps the will of most senior PKP people.

Before I get started, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment to the position of CEO of PKP InterCity. By now you will have found out that the job is something of a poisoned chalice – you are the 9th PKP IC CEO in the space of the last ten years. You may be wondering why so few of your predecessors lasted any length of time. Were they really ALL so incompetent? Of course not, and my reason for writing to you is to offer you a few pointers so that you avoid the rapid career change that befell most of them.

Seriously, all joking aside, one of the things you should consider is talking to your predecessors – those who are prepared talk. Some have become bitter and are rusting in sidings like Poland’s historic steam locomotives, others have coped better and are developing their careers elsewhere. The latter will tell you that not all the key variables that affect PKP IC’s profitability can be managed the IC board or even the main PKP SA board. There are systemic factors which were outwith their control. Some of the strategies of your predecessors were actually quite good, but they were not given the time to make them work.

Here are thumbnail sketches of some of those you should talk to. Jacek Przesluga pointed out that the overall image of railways in Poland depended not just on the quality of the trains, but also on the standard of the stations. He wanted to set up a separate company to manage PKP’s main stations, but was dismissed before he could implement his plan. Janusz Malinowski was popular with staff and drew attention to the environmental benefits of travelling by train. He was sacked for making senior appointments without consulting his boss, a mistake that I am sure you will not want to repeat. Marcin Celejewski’s mission was to bring in airline style marketing and ticketing methods and to ensure the trouble free launch of the Pendolino. He succeeded – but only partially – in both, however a 5 million plus drop in passenger numbers made his position untenable.

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EIC buffet car and WiFi carriage at Warszawa Centralna. Photo BTWT.

Steering the flagship company of the PKP group is a bit like steering a giant oil tanker – there is a considerable delay before any course corrections instituted by the captain are seen to have any effect. The captain has the benefit of training on simulators before he finds himself on the bridge of a real tanker. There is no similar training package for PKP IC CEOs and, being realistic, your ‘on-the-job training’ will take a year. Forgive me for being so blunt, but with PKP IC haemorrhaging cash and Parliamentary elections due no later than November, I do not believe that you have got a year before you have to be seen to have turned your ship around.

So to help you get your tenure off to a flying start I have prepared the following 10-point crib sheet. If you manage to implement all these recommendations you should – given a fair wind – outlast your predecessors.

  1. Listen to your customers

    Set up a focus group. Run customer satisfaction surveys. Ride your trains and talk to passengers. If you need inspiration talk to Anthony Smith at Passenger Focus. By the way, did you know that the seats in the 2nd class section of your expensive new Pendolino trains do not fit the standard Polish male derrière?

  2. Listen to your employees

    Another excellent way of discovering what your customers think of PKP is to talk to customer-facing employees like train managers and ticketing staff. They hear an enormous amount of complaints at first hand. Actually it is quite a good idea to set up a way of getting feedback from all your employees. Most of the PKP group’s internal culture is still firmly rooted in ‘Command and Control’ mode, a left over from the days when Poland’s railways were an integral part of the Warsaw Pact’s military machine. Instigating a ‘reverse channel’ so information can flow upwards from staff to their managers, regional directors and main board members should be one of your main priorities.

  3. Improve ticketing

    In spite of Celejewski’s attempt to introduce low-cost airline discount pricing, the PKP IC ticketing system is still a shambles. Passengers travelling, say from Lodz to Zakopany and changing at Krakow Plaszow from one TLK train to another, should NOT have to buy two separate tickets (thus loosing the through journey discount) when purchasing their tickets through the Internet. Trying to find a bargain discount fare by ‘hunting’ between different days (a painless process on the discount airline portals) involves having to re-key in all the journey data for each day ‘tested’. It is only possible to buy tickets four weeks in advance. Why? This is something you should be able to sort out quite quickly. Setting up a ‘fair’ single fare for journeys involving more than one train operating company will take longer, but this is also a goal worth pursuing.

  4. Improve the customer experience at stations

    In the last few years major stations have undergone complete rebuilds or makeovers – a process partly accelerated by Euro 2012 championship (though relatively few football fans actually travelled around Poland by rail). But there are still major deficiencies in the quality of the station experience: lack of decent waiting rooms with comfortable seats, incomplete information on destination boards, poor integration between commercial retail and station facilities. I could go on and on about my pet gripes, but rather than pay attention to me, why don’t you… ?

  5. Make your managers and directors travel by train!

    I have always been amazed how much – bearing in mind that they work for a national public transport network – senior railway people in Poland travel about on duty by plane, or are chauffeured around in luxury cars. What a missed opportunity for senior people to see what is really happening on the railway! You should ban this practice immediately in PKP IC, and – should a suitable occasion arise – suggest gently to your boss, PKP SA CEO Jakub Karnowski, that he consider implementing such a ban throughout the whole PKP group.

  6. Introduce a staff suggestion scheme

    Have you read Deming’s Quality Productivity and Competitive Position, Out of the Crisis and The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education ? If not, please order these two seminal books for yourself and for all your fellow board members. Deming proved that it is possible to increase quality and reduce costs simultaneously. His work had a profound effect on the competitiveness of Japanese industry post WW II. It takes time to change a company’s culture based on the ideas taught by Deming, but as a small step in the right direction, you should encourage staff (individuals or teams of co-workers) to submit ideas for improving processes and reducing costs by offering appropriate rewards.

  7. Improve access for less-abled passengers

    To give PKP credit where credit is due, major stations around the PKP network are being fitted out with escalators and/or lifts. But due to a blind spot (no pun intended) PKP’s architects are failing to provide integrated solutions – complete routes that can easily be navigated without encountering a flight of steps. In the recently modernised station at Katowice, one of two pedestrian tunnels has been fitted with escalators leading to the platforms. Access to this subway is via a flight of steps. Further along the concourse an escalator and wheelchair ramp leads to another subway, but this tunnel has only stairs leading to the platforms. Similar barriers exist at the brand new station at Krakow Glowny. One can – for a time at least – excuse such problems at legacy buildings like Warszawa Centralna, but for brand new facilities this is inexcusable!

  8. Empower staff to deal with certain problems on the spot

    When things go wrong (such as a broken down train) one of the most infuriating things that can happen to a passenger is to be told by the train manager that one has to buy a brand new ticket, and that a refund for the old ticket can only be obtained via a Kafkaesque complaints system. Please, please, empower train staff to deal with such minor problems on the spot, by granting them powers to revalidate old tickets, or issue new replacement tickets, without charging the customer a second time. You would not believe how much anger will be saved, and goodwill generated, by such a simple step.

  9. Appoint an ombudsman

    Appoint a customer champion and show customers that InterCity is really on their side!

  10. Re-enthuse staff and passengers with the ideal of safe, ecologically sound, rail transport

    Rail travel was once seen as the premium travel mode; in many parts of Europe it is being viewed as such again. PKP should be involving its passengers and staff in a campaign to promote the benefits of safe, ecologically sound, rail transport!

My sincere best wishes for your success

Dyspozytor 1

Jacek Leonkiewicz

Sunday, 18 January 2015 by

New broom at the helm of PKP IC

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Jacek Leonkiewicz. Photo PKP SA.

PKP IC’s new chairman, Jacek Leonkiewicz, graduated with a Masters degree in Banking and Finance from the Warsaw School of Economics (SGH) in 2007. While at the SGH he captained the football team and was an exchange student at the University of Madrid and the Copenhagen Business School.

Leonkiewicz gained work experience in London as an intern at Grant Thornton and J P Morgan and took a summer job as an analyst at Merril Lynch. On graduating he joined J P Morgan Case as a debt analyst. In 2009, he returned to Poland to join investment fund manager PKO TFI SA where he stayed for four years.

He became a board member of PKP SA in 2013, and, in 2014, he briefly joined PKP subsidiary, T K Telekom Sp. z o.o. as chairman of its supervisory board. Also in 2014, he became a member of the supervisory board of PKP Cargo SA and later that same year the chairman of the supervisory board of PKP Energetyka SA.

He helped PKP Cargo get in shape for its debut on the Warsaw stock exchange and has been working to prepare both T K Telekom and PKP Energetyka for privatisation.

He was appointed to the position of chairman of PKP IC on 16.1.2015. Here he will have his work cut out in stemming the desertion of customers to other modes of travel, as well as preparing the company for privatisation.

passengers carried by PKP IC each year (millions)

passengers

declining passenger numbers

Toxic 2014 results at PKP IC

Sunday, 18 January 2015 by

Chairman sacked. Privatisation to be rushed through?

BTWT EXCLUSIVE

Unofficial 2014 figures for passengers carried by Poland’s TOCs show passengers deserting PKP InterCity in droves. PKP IC carried 30.7 million passengers in 2013, but only some 25.4 million in 2014, a loss approx of 5.3 million passengers (-17.2%). Most of the passengers deserting Poland’s long-distance train operating company were those who used PKP IC for relatively shorter journeys as the decline in passenger kilometres (from 7,085 million in 2013 to 6,221 million in 2014) was a more modest -7.9%.

To say that the result is a disaster for PKP IC would be an understatement. In 2013, PKP IC declared an overall loss of 87.2 million PLN, on a difference between sales revenue and operating expenses of 91.3 million PLN. Adjusting sales revenue in accordance with the approx 8% reduction in passenger km in 2014, and assuming that any savings achieved in operating expenses was cancelled out by increased debt service charges, the gap between sales revenue and operating revenue opens out to a huge 282.6 million PLN. What the overall effect on PKP IC’s bottom line is, is anybody’s guess, PKP IC has additional deprecation charges associated with the purchase of new rolling stock in 2014.

What is known for certain is that, after 12 months in post, former PKP IC chairman, Marcin Celejewski, has been turfed out of his job (though he remains a board member) giving up his chair to PKP privatisation guru, Jacek Leonkiewicz – the clearest sign yet that PKP may wish to rapidly divest itself of its troublesome flagship company.

Selling some, or even all of PKP IC, will not be easy. Compared to the UK, Poland’s long-distance passenger market is a mess: there are no through ticketing arrangements between the different passenger operators, journey times are lengthy due to speed restrictions due to poor track or construction work, ticket prices (when compared to earnings) are high, Poland’s TOCs having to pay some of the highest track access charges in Europe.

Stagecoach investigated the possibility of setting up as a TOC in Poland and decided the market was too risky – with the insight so obtained into Poland’s public transport market Stagecoach founder, Brian Souter, decided to set up PKP IC’s nemesis, Polski Bus, instead!

Radzymin Narrow Gauge Railway – memories

Saturday, 20 December 2014 by

Skaldowie official video featuring journey on the Radzymin narrow gauge railway in 1971. Film Telewizja Polska.

Thanks to the Polish rock band Skaldowie and an enterprising 1971 Telewizja Polska film crew the 750mm Radzymin Narrow Gauge Railway (Kolej Marecka) lives on, as a video (teledisk) on YouTube! The Radzymin line was the first Polish narrow gauge railway that I ever travelled on, followed shortly by a trip on the metre gauge Grojecka Narrow Gauge Railway. Both trips happened in 1965 possibly minus a year or two.

It’s a sobering thought that all the n.g. tracks that I travelled on during that trip to Warsaw: Warszawa Wilenska to Radzymin (Px48-hauled); Wilanow to Piaseczno (diesel or petrol railcar); Piaseczno to Warszawa Dworzec Południowy (Warsaw South Station, today the site of Wilanowska Metro station) have been lifted. What a tourist line the railway from Wilanow would have made! A fragment of this once extensive network survives as the Piaseczno Narrow Gauge Railway.

Skaldowie formed in Krakow in 1965, and were one of the most popular bands in Poland in the 1960s and 70s. Their music is a heady mixture of rock, prog rock, folk rock, jazz and classical music. The band – which is still active – seems to be particularly fond of Poland’s narrow gauge railways. As well recording the video for their track Na wszystkich dworcach świata (On all the world’s stations) they recorded Hymn kolejarzy wąskotorowych (A hymn to narrow gauge railwaymen). The latter has also been made into a video, it would appear by some enterprising YouTuber. This second film combines film from the 1971 video with much older archive film of the Radzymin railway from the 1950s – see below.

Both tracks – Na wszystkich dworcach świata and Hymn kolejarzy wąskotorowych – were first released on the band’s LP Ty in 1970. The complete album, as well as the individual tracks, are available for purchase and digital download through iTunes.

Fragments of the 1971 film combined with much older archive footage of the Radzymin narrow gauge railway. Film januszpeiks.

 

Polish Pendolino – a cautious step forward, or too little too late?

Monday, 15 December 2014 by

Dyspozytor travels on the first public service Express InterCity Premium (EIP) ‘Pendolino’ train from Warsaw to Krakow on 14 December.

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Over half an hour to go before the first Warsaw to Krakow Pendolino departs – time for a coffee and a roll in my favourite coffee bar at Centralna. Photo BTWT.

(All the photos can be enlarged x 2 by clicking on the image.)

I am impressed, but not excessively so. The 2nd class seats are comfortable, though a tad narrow for the classical Polish male derrière. Acceleration out of Warszawa Zachodnia – gentle yet sustained – is comparable to the diesel-powered HST125s out of Paddington (after they were throttled back following the Ladbroke Grove crash) though to PKP’s credit there is no appreciable slowing down through the Zyradow modernisation area, where delays have been the rule for over a year.

I cannot find an Internet signal, but there is a double power socket in the space between the seats. I have to have it pointed out to me as my left thigh is obscuring the location. It seems that the same approach has been made as regards the inter-seat spacing as on the notorious PESA Bydgostia EMU’s – a narrow body shell has been fitted out with 2 + 2 seating and a gangway wide enough to run a wheelchair from one end of the train to another. I have difficulty in believing that such a wide gangway, and the consequent narrow seats and ultra close inter-seat positioning that results, is really required to comply with EU directives.

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On the platform at Centralna there is an impressive platform, but it is only for TV news crews – there will be no speeches. Photo BTWT.

We change tracks vis a facing point at approximately 60mph and I am impressed with our coach’s steadiness as its Alstom Pendolino bogies negotiate the pointwork. The ride is very good, though I am annoyed by the low-frequency rumble occasioned by the welded track joints. Polish rails lack the near perfect alignment achieved in the UK and, apart from a few high quality sections, each welded rail joint is felt in the coach as a slight bump.

I am frustrated by the quality of information provided to passengers. In Warsaw a female voice on a recorded loop announced some 30 times that passengers attempting to travel WITHOUT a ticket and seat reservation will be fined 600 złoty (approx. 120 GBP). This seems somewhat excessive both as regards frequency of the announcement and also the size of the fine, especially as 90% of the seats are empty and journalists and PKP staff seem to outnumber fare-paying passengers.

The LED travelling information ribbon panel at the end of the coach is stuck in an endless loop announcing alternatively: first, that the next station will be Krakow Glowny and then, that the remaining stations will be… Krakow Glowny. I had hoped for the usual more informative display with an occasional real-time indication of our speed.

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Our train draw into the platform, but where are the crowds of intending passengers? Photo BTWT.

There are some nice human touches, the driver switches on the PA and announces aeroplane captain style that we are travelling at 200 km/h (125 mph). The track is exceptionally smooth here and I would never have guessed. However, immediately after making the announcement he applies the brakes so I cannot savour the moment for long.

Our 200 km/h peak top speed took some time to build up and I conclude that Pendolino drivers have been trained to limit their acceleration and hence the current drawn from the electric supply. The Pendolino traction equipment was originally designed for high voltage (25kV or 15kV) AC electrified lines and the current drawn on Poland’s 3kV DC lines is very high. (Hint: POWER = VOLTS x AMPS.) Theoretically, two Pendolinos passing each other on the same electrical section and accelerating hard could blow the circuit breakers in the electricity sub station.

Pendolino-1030200

The interior – very nice, but the passengers do not quite fit the seats (or is it the other way round?). Photo BTWT.

We slow down for the junction at Psary and turn south passing through the site of the Szczekociny head on collision of 2012. The line begins to twist and turn and on this section the tilting package (based on research carried out by the BR Research Division in the 1970s and left off the Polish Pendolino bogies to save money) would have allowed our driver to take the curves some 10 km/h faster. With only twenty-five minutes to our scheduled stop at Krakow Glowny, we grind to a halt at Niedzwiedz. So much for our 2hr 28min run, thinks the cynic in me. Our captain comes on the intercom again to say that the delay has been factored in the timetable, and, we are still scheduled to arrive in Krakow on time. Four minutes later, a train running in the opposite direction having passed, we are off again.

Resisting blandishments to sample the delights of the restaurant car, I remain in my seat throughout and tap away on my tablet writing this article. The ride is sufficiently smooth to make typing on a tablet or laptop a pleasure. Another announcement (surely too early?) informs us that we are approaching our destination and that we should check that we have collected all our luggage.

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On arrival in Krakow a few stragglers pause to admire the train. Photo BTWT.

We arrive in Krakow Glowny at 08:56, 2hr 21min after departing Warsaw – 7 minutes early! The (theoretically non-stop run) from Warszawa Zachodnia (Warsaw West) has taken just 2hr 15min to cover 290km – a very satisfactory average speed of approx. 129km/h (80mph). At Glowny, just as had been the case at Centralna, there is a scramble of TV cameras and journalists, but no brass band, nor ribbon cutting. VIPs, whether PKP senior executives or politicians are conspicuous by their absence.

Maria Wasiak – former PKP group chairman and now as minister of Infrastructure and Development ultimately responsible for Poland’s railways – said a few days ago, no need to make a fuss, the Pendolino is just a train. However, I am cautiously impressed, and with plenty cheap discount tickets available for advance purchase, I will certainly be using PKP’s Express InterCity Premium service again.

dyspozytor_sig

An update from Jarocin

Wednesday, 3 December 2014 by

20140809_161333 - Turntable 2 - JS

TKi3-87 on the turntable at Jarocin. Photo: John Savery.

It has been a while since I wrote about what has been happening in Jarocin.  Part of my lack of articles (until the recent flurry) has been down to the amount of time spent in Poland, in part on railway based activities, and in the UK, also with railway activities, with a Polish flavour.

TKW, the society based at the former locomotive shed in Jarocin, have a good set up.  Not all Polish societies can boast accommodation on site, with running hot water (and showers) available, and with adequate power and light in the shed.  Granted, the main part is not heated, and even if it was, the cost of the fuel to heat it would be outside the society’s resources in the middle of winter.  Nevertheless, the society’s facilities are well ahead of most others.

Back in 2010, the society stepped in to provide accommodation to TKi3-87, formerly based at Wolsztyn, and the property of the Poznan Model Railway Club (PKMK).

The loco finished working in Wolsztyn in 2001, and was towed to Gniezno for storage.  Following the closure of the Gniezno workshops, the loco was moved outside, open to the elements, and anyone who wanted to help themselves to parts of it.  Fortunately, very little of the latter seems to have happened, however given the plight, TKW stepped in to offer accommodation, sponsors were found to pay for the move, and a long term loan agreement was reached with PKMK.

Gradually, a group of volunteers has been formed to start to prepare the loco for overhaul, and this has resulted in a spate of activity over the summer.

Whilst some parts had been removed prior to this year, regular working parties have progressed well.

The external boiler fittings have been removed, as have cab fittings.  This has allowed the cab to be lifted from the loco, and in turn, allowed the side tanks to be lifted.  The cladding has been removed from the boiler sides to give access to the boiler shell.

Additionally, the reverser mechanism has been removed to give access to the side of the firebox, and parts of the cab floor have also been lifted to give access to the mounting bolts for the reverser.

For the first time in over 15 years, someone has managed to squeeze into the boiler barrel, if only to assist with removing the regulator valve rods.

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Removing the regulator gland. Photo: Konrad Czapracki.

Much now will depend on the condition of the boiler barrel, and it is anticipated that the tubes will be removed, and boiler shell samples taken for analysis in the new year.  This should give an indication of the level of work required on the boiler.  The Polish regulations require samples to be cut from the plates, instead of non-destructive testing.

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A view of the boiler without the cladding.  Note the holes in the side of the shell.  Samples were taken whilst at Gniezno, but never tested. Photo: John Savery.

It’s fair to say that it is unlikely to be a fast track restoration, and is likely to depend on the number of volunteers continuing to grow as visible progress is made.  Nevertheless, each journey begins with a single step, and hopefully the first ones in the restoration of this locomotive have now been taken.

The group can be contacted on tki3@parowozy.net

Great Continental Railway Journeys – Poland

Tuesday, 25 November 2014 by

Portillo cab view

Michael Portillo rides the cab of Ol49-59.
Still courtesy BBC TV.

The BBC series “Great Continental Railway Journeys” is currently airing on UK television.  The latest series (3) devoted an episode to Poland.

Filmed in the spring of this year, the Michael Portillo and his Bradshaw guide start their journey in the restored heart of Warsaw, before travelling to Lodz, once a cotton capital to rival Manchester.

His Poznan stop includes the obligatory visit to the goats in the Rynek (Market Square), and the Kaiser’s Castle (or Palace) a short walk from the railway station.  The footage of the station is of the new concrete and glass structure (also known as “Poznan City Center” shopping centre), rather than the older building, or even the Dworzec Letni.

Portillo finds time to visit Wolsztyn, referring to it being the place where scheduled from where steam services still run.  His visit, on April 7, fell a few days after the suspension of the service, which as readers will know, has still not recommenced. His footplate ride out to Nowa Wies involved a special train, as there were no scheduled services.  Viewers can draw their own conclusions about his firing (watch the gloves and style).

The onward journey and visit to Wroclaw involved a visit around the Bombardier railway works, formerly known as Linke-Hoffman (before the war) and Pafawag (after the war), before travelling out of Wroclaw via the restored Wroclaw Głowny station.

The shots of Krakow are the familiar Rynek and Mariacki church, and a trip around the Stalinist-era Nowa Huta, grafted onto the side of the old town by the communist regime.

The full programme is available to UK residents for another 3 weeks on the BBC iPlayer here. Sadly viewers in Poland without a proxy server are blocked.

Wolsztyn elects new mayor

Monday, 24 November 2014 by

Wojciech Lis

Wojciech Lis, the newly elected Mayor of Wolsztyn.
Photo Wojciech Lis.

The recent local elections have seen a change in leadership in Wolsztyn.

The new Mayor is Wojciech Lis, known to many for his factual and regular updates on the Wolsztyn steam scene through his website parowozy.com.pl, which he has operated for well over a decade.

It is clear that since the suspension of the regular scheduled service, the town has been substantially quieter.  It is hoped that such an openly pro-steam mayor will vigorously push for the reinstatement of the daily steam services.

Behind the Water Tower congratulates Mr Lis on his election, and wishes him well for his tenure.

PKP Intercity ticketing system collapses – Heads roll

Tuesday, 18 November 2014 by

No PKP IC

Tomorrow’s morning trains from Lodz to Warsaw. Only the Przewozy Regionalne online booking service is working. Image TK Telecom train timetable portal.

(Click image to expand.)

The relaunch of PKP Intercity’s ticketing system, timed to coincide with the sale of tickets for the new Pendolino service starting in December,  has ended in farce.  Launched on Sunday 16 November, the service quickly collapsed, and whilst booking offices at stations have been resolved, the online service, which handles Intercity’s sales is still down.  Ticket machines are also affected.  Together, they handle 10% of sales.  No timetable is given for resolution. As of this evening, the online service remains unusable.

PKPIC null

PKP IC’s own ticket portal displays a dearth of information.

A crisis team has been set up, and the problem blamed on the lack of compatibility with the new system, and the existing archaic systems used throughout the PKP network.

Heads have rolled.  Paweł Hordyński, the board member with responsibility for IT and the new ticketing system has been removed from his post.  A further two directors have also gone.

As a means of apology, Intercity have increased the availability of the cheapest tickets (49zl) for the new Pendolino service threefold.  Assuming there is a means for buying them…

Intercity have stated that the launch date for the Pendolino is unaffected.

Gniezno District Railway, 1939 (Part 4)

Friday, 12 September 2014 by

by ‘Inzynier’

(continued from: Gniezno District Railway, 1939 – Part 3)

After a good night’s sleep in Gniezno, it is time for us to continue our 1939 journey, right the way across the Gniezno system…

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Tx2-355 in later years at Koronowo (1969). This locomotive arrived in Gniezno around 1937. Photo Ton Pruissen.

(Click to see the original image on Wciaz pod para)

Today we are to travel to the eastern end of the Gniezno system at Anastazewo. However, the Mondays and Thursdays train to that station runs late in the day, so we spend some time looking round the city: the cathedral, main square and surrounding streets are all delightful. We have a relaxed time and gradually make our way to the main station. We pause here relatively briefly, conscious that prolonged observation of standard gauge operations may arouse suspicions of spying.

Soon, therefore, we find ourselves back at the narrow gauge station which, in contrast to the hive of activity at the standard gauge station, is quietly slumbering in the afternoon sunshine. The loco depot and workshops are conveniently located alongside the station building, so we are able to observe the motive power fleet. Inside the shed we can just see 0-6-0T+Ts Nos. 7 and 8, while 0-8-0T No. 9 is in steam in front of the shed and 0-8-0T+T No. 10 is parked in a nearby siding(25). There are also railcars 2 and 3(26).

Eventually there are signs of life and railcar 3 trundles across to the platform to form the 16.50 service to Witkowo. As departure time nears, a respectable number of passengers arrive, having finished their day’s business in the city, and the last few find it is standing room only. As we head out of the city a number of people leave the train at the various halts. Not until a brief stop at Niechanowo do any passengers join the train – from that point we are on new territory and start to pay more attention to our surroundings.

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Witkowo. The narrow gauge railway runs mainly in the roadside verge. Extract from the WIG map of 1935.

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

The railway runs alongside a lane to the halt at Miroszka, with its loading loop by the farm, at which a couple of people get off(27). We continue alongside the lane, crossing a few trackways, and then re-join the main Witkowo road shortly before the halt (and loading loop) at Malachowo. We then cross the road but continue alongside it and pass another loading loop. Then, approaching Witkowo, we cross the road again and enter the station, where a couple of sidings hold a few wagons. The train terminates here and, as it will be a few hours before another train arrives to take us on to Anastazewo, we head into the town square to find some sustenance at a cafe. The 16km journey has taken 38 minutes, an average speed of 25kph, again showing the advantages of railcars.

After our meal we wander round the town and back to the station and we now take the opportunity to study our surroundings. Witkowo was the original terminus of the railway and the first thing we notice is that the station building is at an angle to the platform and through tracks; until the 1920s the main line ran on the other side of the building and for about half a kilometre was some way to the north of the current alignment. The former station tracks are now sidings, from the furthest north of which a line runs back westward to serve, via a wagon turntable, a warehouse. On the current main line there is a passing loop, and to the south a fan of sidings serves a store and weighbridge, but of the three road loco depot only the turntable remains, the shed itself having been demolished a few years ago.

Eventually, the 21.20 for Anastazewo arrives behind 0-8-0T No. 6(28). The three coaches and van that make up the train are well in excess of requirements for this time of day (there appear to be only two other passengers) but will no doubt be required for the return working tomorrow morning as the train heads into the city. We swiftly board the train and are on our way again, crossing a street and passing through a freight yard, from which a field railway branches north for perhaps a couple of kilometres to serve a farm(29).

Passing round the northern side of town, the line crosses another street, following which a siding runs off to the right to serve a timber yard. After a few more streets there follows a siding to the left serving a sawmill, then we swing right to cross the road to Powidz, alongside which we run to the halt at Strzyzewo. Then we cross the road and run round the north side of the village before coming alongside the road again on our right. After running alongside the road for some time we cross over to the south side, pass the halt and loading loop at Wiekowo and cross back to the north side, run parallel to the road again for a while and then curve away to the north, past the halt and loading loop at Lugi, followed by the siding running back to the right to serve the sand/gravel workings.

powidz

Powidz and Przybrodzin. Extract from the WIG map of 1935.

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

In contrast to the previous section, which was mostly straight or nearly so, the next kilometre or two see us winding through fields and scrub until we reach a trackway, which we follow for a while, passing the halt at Charbin. Then come two tight curves, interspersed with a straight section alongside another track, following which another section alongside a track takes us past a couple of sidings on the left to a sawmill; this was the terminus of a field railway which preceded the district railway. Soon comes Powidz station, where the other passengers leave the train.

The layout of the station was clearly set out as a terminus, for the station building sits squarely across the end of the yard while the main line and passing loop curve sharply left. From the loop, three sidings branch off to the right, two terminating in front of the station building while the third leads to a turntable, with a line branching back from that to the two-road loco shed.

powidz-station

Powidz Station between 1905 and 1915. 

(Click to see the original image on fotopolska.eu)

After a brief pause we start away again, crossing the road(30). Again we pass round the north side of the town, cross a road and then run alongside the lake, passing Przybrodzin halt and then crossing an isthmus and passing the halts at Ostrowo Nowe and Ostrowo Stare, the latter having a loading loop on the left. We have now entered a wilderness of former frontier country and the halt at Rusin passes almost unnoticed in the fading light and the surrounding woodland. Finally, some 22km from Witkowo (38km from Gniezno), we pull into the former border station at Anastazewo.

anastazewo

Anastazewo, the eastern end of the Gniezno district railway. Extract from the WIG map of 1935.

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

It is after 10pm and the next train eastward will not depart until after 6am tomorrow. When this was a border crossing there were no doubt additional facilities but today it is, quite frankly, a station in the middle of nowhere, representing only the boundary between the Gniezno district railway to the west and the PKP railway to the east.

Our train has arrived on a line that terminates just short of the station building which, like that at Powidz, sits across the end of the station. To the left is the run-round loop and beyond that, on the other side of a roadway, a siding. To the right is the PKP line eastward, along with another run-round/passing loop, and the two-road loco depot. The crew spend some time watering No. 6, filling the boiler and banking the fire before leaving it to simmer for a few hours. Fortunately, as the temperature drops quite markedly, we are able to join the crew in the depot and grab a few hours’ sleep.

Anastazewo in 1984 retained much of its earlier atmosphere despite the broader gauge. Video © Andrzej Mastalerz.

to be continued…

NOTES

25) Gniezno 7 was Krauss works no 6624 of 1912, originally named ‘Anastazewo’. It was renumbered 1 in 1939 (I have assumed after the German occupation), and taken into PKP stock in 1949, becoming Py1-721. It was withdrawn in 1955. Gniezno 8 was Krauss works no 6803 of 1913, became 2 in 1939, PKP’s Py1-722 and was withdrawn in 1957. Gniezno 9 was Orenstein & Koppel works no 6960 of 1915, became 3 in 1939, went to Wrzesnia after 1945, became PKP’s Tx1-354 and went to Mlawa in 1956, became Tx2-354 from 1961 and was withdrawn in 1963. Gniezno 10 was Orenstein & Koppel works no 7865 of 1916, being bought on military instructions to serve Goslawice sugar factory during the First World War. It was renumbered 4 in 1939 and was scrapped or sold in 1949.

26) Gniezno’s railcar 2 was built in the railway’s own workshops in 1931, having a bogie at the front and a single axle at the rear. It was taken into PKP stock in 1949 and became Mzy-21. It was regauged to 750mm at Koronowo on the Bydgoszcz system and then went to the Gdansk system in March 1951, working from Lisewo, but was withdrawn in 1954. Railcar 3 was also built in the railway’s own workshops, in 1935, but had two bogies. It became PKP’s Mzx-045, was also regauged at Koronowo and sent to the Gdansk system in March 1951. In 1952 it was allocated to Lisewo but in 1953 was set aside due to the lack of spare parts. It was scrapped in 1956.

27) The Niechanowo – Witkowo section opened in 1896 and was converted to 750mm gauge in 1957. It is still open for tourist trains.

28) Gniezno 6 was Orenstein & Koppel works no 5020 of 1911. It was built for the German military and initially numbered HF 302. It became PKP’s D2-401 after the First World War and is believed to have worked on the Mlawa system until being sold to the Gniezno district railway in 1937 (more recent information suggests it did not arrive until after the German invasion). It was taken into PKP stock again in 1949 and became Tx1-355, went to Bialosliwie in 1956, then to Mlawa, and to Koronowo in 1962. It was withdrawn in 1970 and is now in the museum at Wenecja.

29) The Witkowo – Powidz section opened in 1897, was converted to 750mm gauge in 1957 and is still open for tourist trains.

30) Powidz – Anastazewo opened in 1911, was converted to 750mm gauge in 1957 and is still open for tourist trains as far as Ostrowo Stare, although the section beyond there is currently out of use due to the need for repairs to the track.

Dramatic derailment in Switzerland

Wednesday, 13 August 2014 by

accident_police_photo

The derailed carriages seen from the loco. Photo Graubünden Police.

News of a serious railway accident in Switzerland is always an extraordinary event – Swiss railways are amongst the safest in the world.

The accident occurred at approximately 12:45 on Wednesday 13 August. A train was travelling from St. Moritz to Chur on the Albula section of the Rhaetian Railway between Tiefencastel and Solis. The leading carriage just behind the locomotive was hit by a landslide. The carriage plunged down a ravine and fortunately snagged on some trees before it could gather enough momentum to crash through the forest.

The second coach ended up hanging over the brink of the embankment. The passengers were asked to walk to the back of the coach to keep it stable. The third coach also derailed, but remained upright on the tracks. The rear bogie of the locomotive was also apparently derailed, but the driver promptly brought the engine to a halt and it remained upright on the tracks.

The derailment location near Tiefencastel, Switzerland. Google Maps.

Some two inches of rain fell on Wednesday morning downhill – equivalent to the normal rainfall in the whole of August. The earth and soil, weakened by the rain poured down onto a 15m section of track. In some places the debris piled up 3m high.

Fortunately, there were no casualties – 5 passengers were seriously injured, 6 less so. None are in danger. Those unable to walk were taken to hospital from the scene by helicopter. Some 200 passengers were guided through a tunnel by members of staff and then taken by cars to Tiefencastel station from where they continued their journey by coach.

The Albula section of the Rhaetian Railway is expected to remain closed for two days while the landside is cleared and the hillside secured.

Photos:

Background:

Videos of journeys on the RB


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