Archive for April 8th, 2008

A Ride on the Dark Track – part 2

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Lorries coming off the Calais ferry at Dover Harbour

Dyspozytor is riding on a lorry from Poland to London to discover why so much Polish freight goes to the UK by road. The first part of his report was published yesterday.

My driver said call me “Wojtek” and we shook hands. By now there was a little traffic on the roads. A number of lorries flashed their lights at us. Was there a police checkpoint ahead? Then the radio barked, “Switch off that bloody halogen”. “I haven’t got any halogens,” muttered Wojtek under his breath. We rolled along newly asphalted roads for a few hours. The air became heavy with a strong smell of diesel fumes. “Wroclaw” explained Wojtek. We turned off the main road and proceed a long a narrow road little better than a farm track. Another lorry coming from the other direction had to wait while Wojtek pulled over onto the side of the road. We turned right into a slightly wider road, after a time there were regular street lights and tram tracks running parallel to the road on our right.

It seems that the Councillors of Wroclaw, in a display of environmental conciousness that’s rare in Poland, have decreed that lorries with an overall weight of 18 tonnes or more are banned from the streets of their city. Poland being Poland, there is a slight hitch – Wroclaw is on the direct route from Warsaw and other parts of Poland to the German autobahn system, and – there is no Wroclaw by-pass. So Wojtek, and many other drivers like him, have invented their own bypass. The substandard tracks get them half way round the city, so reducing the chance of a meeting with the traffic police by 50%. By performing this manoeuvre at 4.30 am. in the morning, Wojtek had reduced the chance of such a meeting to insignificant proportions.

We drive along a cobbled street with a tram track in the centre that is in the course of being lifted. Was this part of an EU-funded track refurbishment programme, or a reduction in the City’s tram routes? It was difficult to tell. We drove into an all night petrol station and Wojtek bought a gas cylinder for the small portable stove that he cooks on. Then he checked his lights. The offending light was a fog lamp that seemed to be wired up in parallel with the main headlights. Wojtek put down a tarpaulin on the muddy ground and crawled under the cab. 10 minutes later he had disconnected the rogue foglamp and we were on our way again. We drove over a concrete flyover constructed in the 70’s. Cracks in the asphalt betrayed serious structural problems. A weight restriction sign said 10 T. “Don’t worry”, said Wojtek, We’re only 18.5 tonnes. The bridge is regularly crossed by lorries with weighing 45 tonnes or more.”

Not far from Wroclaw we joined the A4 motorway. Curiously, this recently constructed section of the Polish motorway system has been built without a hard shoulder. I guess that the official who drew up the specification and the contractor who built this section, both benefited from its omission.

Wojtek began making a strange snorting noise and I guessed that he was fighting hard not to fall asleep. It was about 6pm. After another hour he gave up the unequal struggle and pulled into a lorry park cum shopping area to catch “half an hours sleep”. A couple of hours later, with both of suitably refreshed, we set off again. We crossed the Polish border about 9 am. Poland has entered the Shenegen zone so there were no border formalities, but Wojtek did have to stop and buy a 95 euro ticket to pay for his transit via the German motorway system. “We’ll stop in a little over an hour and have a decent sleep,” promised Wojtek. “We’ll arrive in England, whenever we arrive. There’s no rush for this load of furniture.”

A text message brought about the only occasion when I heard Wojtek almost swear. “Cripes! This load of cardboard furniture is wanted in England tomorrow morning!” 1,500 km to go.

The third part of the journey is available here.