Archive for April 17th, 2008

Bieszczady Railway gets ready for season

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Track on the Wola Michowa – Lupkow section of the BR emerges from the undergrowth after more than 10 years.

The Bieszczady Forest Railaway is Poland’s premier narrow gauge railway. It was the first Polish railway to be preserved and achieves some 100,000 passenger journeys each year. The line has an excellent website with many photographs. The WWW pages sport a competent English translation. The line is one of the few Polish heritage railways that has achieved security of tenure. In 1997, the Fundacja Bieszczadzkiej Kolejki Lesnej (Bieszczady Forestry Railway Foundation) managed to acquire the railway, the associated land and buildings and some – but not all the former rolling stock – from the Polish Forestry Commission.

In some ways the line resembles the Talyllyn Railway in North Wales. Both lines run through an amazingly beautiful landscape, mountainous yet lush and verdant. After over a hundred years of doing without, the TR has only relatively recently fitted its trains with continuous brakes, the BR has yet to do so.

Talyllyn Railway

Bieszczady Railway

Spot the difference – the TR in North Wales and BR in Bieszczady

However, there are differences. The Talyllyn Railway relies heavily on its volunteers, the BR on its – seasonally employed – paid staff. The future of the TR – the first preserved railway in the world – is secure. The BR, like all Polish narrow gauge lines, operates on a financial tightrope. It only needs the Polish government to create one more thoughtless railway regulation – Polish heritage railways are the most regulated in Europe – and the delicate financial balance of the railway would be plunged into crisis.

Revenue from BR’s popular tourists trains covers operating expenses and generate a small surplus which the Foundation invests in repairing the track and rolling stock. In addition the BR, with financial help from the Carpathian Foundation, had started the task of restoring the disused 7km of track from Wola Michowa – to the standard gauge station at Lupkow. But spiralling prices meant that there was not enough money in the kitty to complete the job and the extension has been suspended. The rebuild of the Foundation’s Kp4 0-8-0 steam locomotive, a class which once ran on the line, has also been put on hold for lack of cash.

Most of Poland’s narrow gauge railways haul their tourist trains with diesel locos and the BR, which employs Lyd2’s for the purpose, is no exception to the general rule. It’s a pity that a Kp4 in working order was taken by the Warsaw Railway Museum from the BR to work the Sochaczew Museum Railway. It’s an even greater pity that Mr Sankowski, the director of the museum, does not see the mutual benefit which would accrue if the locomotive was allowed to return to the BR. The BR’s diminutive LAS 0-6-0T is not powerful enough to haul regular passenger trains on the line’s steep gradients, although it is sometimes employed on short special trains.

This year’s season on the Bieszczady Railway starts on May 1st. You’ll find the current timetable here. There’s plenty to see, both on the line and in the glorious countryside. The BR is certainly a line that I recommend checking out.